US doctors are hoarding supplies of drugs that are being tested for treating coronavirus, a disconcerting new report reveals.
A ProPublica investigation found that doctors are prescribing drugs like hydroxychloroquine, a therapeutic approved for treating malaria and lupus that President Trump has hailed as a promising drug for coronavirus, to themselves.
The Illinois Pharmacists Association was alerted to the trend its director called ‘disturbing’ over the weekend, and it has issued a warning against prescribing these sorts of drugs without an established relationship with patients who have meet criteria.
And Illinois isn’t the only place facing this unsettling issue.
Pharmacists in Miami and Houston have had similarly suspicious prescriptions called in by doctors making large orders of the drugs to stockpile and lupus patients throughout the US have complained they can’t get their medications.
Hydroxychloroquine has shown some potential for treating coronavirus in China, where production of the drugs has resumed (pictured). In the US, doctors are prescribing the drug to themselves and hoarding it
President Trump touted the drug as a ‘game-changer’ despite the fact that it has not been proven effective for coronavirus, fueling interest in and shortages of hydroxychloroquine
‘It’s disgraceful, is what it is,’ said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association of doctors’ behavior in the state.
‘And completely selfish.’
He told ProPublica that his association received a slew of complaints starting on Saturday from pharmacists who were getting calls from doctors trying to prescribe drugs like hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to themselves, friends and family members.
Hydroxychloroquine is sold under the brand name Plaquenil and dates back more than half a century.
It was developed as a less toxic version of a successful anti-malaria drug.
In 1956, it was approved for treating symptoms of the autoimmune diseases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
About 1.5 million Americans are thought to have lupus, a rare disorder which causes a wide array of symptoms – including everything from pain and fatigue to fever, rah, kidney and memory problems and blood clotting.
Rheumatoid arthritis is similarly rare, striking about 41 out of every 100,000 people each year, causing them inflammation that drives joint pain and damaging multiple body systems.
And not all of those patients are on Plaquenil, meaning that there’s neither a massive supply nor demand of it sitting on pharmacy shelves.
Some pharmacists have seen their stocks of the drugs depleted almost immediately.
More than 25,000 Americans now have coronavirus and more than 300 have died. Distress over the pandemic has fueled a scramble for unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine, which is being tested as an experimental treatment in the US
Chloroquine is FDA-approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in addition to malaria in the US, and companies are already reporting shortages of it
SMS Pharmacy Solutions in Miami had some 800 tablets of Plaquenil on Monday morning. Within an hour, they were completely sold out, pharmacy president Brian Brito told ProPublica.
One doctor requested 200 of the tablets, but the pharmacy turned him down.
‘People are losing their minds about this product,’ Brito told ProPublica.
‘We’re selling so much of this stuff and people are just stockpiling it prophylactically if anybody in their family gets sick – they’re just holding on to it.
Other pharmacists reported that doctors called in prescriptions for chloroquine, claiming it was for spouses or family members with lupus, and they needed unlimited refills.
Pharmacists are doing their best to bat back inappropriate requests for the drug. West Virginia’s pharmacy association issued an order that only 30 tablets of the drug can be prescribed at a time.
But since President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a ‘game-changer’ last week, demand and prescriptions have surged.
A University of Utah drug shortage monitoring program reports shortages already for hydroxychloroquine tablets made by four companies – Amneal, Mylan, Major and Teva.
Tablets made by Zydus, Concordia (which makes the brand name drug, Plaquenil), Sandoz and Prasco are still available.
Access to hydroxychloroquine was expanded for experimental treatment of COVID-19 under compassionate use in the US.
Doctors are only meant to prescribe it some coronavirus patients, largely for the purpose of collecting data on the drug’s effects in combination with the common antibiotic, azithromycin.
But health officials and the FDA have repeatedly cautioned that the drugs are unproven.
Studies in China and France are among those that have suggested the treatments could help combat COVID-19 symptoms.
However, Dr Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus task force has repeatedly warned that the drug is not proven and should not be seen as a magic bullet.