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Why hoarding of hydroxychloroquine needs to stop

Martha Bebinger, WBUR on

Published in News & Features

BOSTON -- A family of old anti-malarial drugs -- including one that some patients rely on to treat their lupus or rheumatoid arthritis -- is becoming harder to get in the United States, pharmacists say, partly because of remarks President Donald Trump has made, highlighting the drugs as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

"I feel good about it. That's all it is, just a feeling," Trump said during a White House briefing Thursday about hydroxychloroquine. "You're going to see soon enough." He again trumpeted his interest in the approach at a news conference Monday.

But health officials have been quick to warn that enthusiasm for such a treatment is premature. Big clinical studies of the drug against COVID-19 are only just beginning, the head of the Food and Drug Administration has said; another study was set to begin in New York on Tuesday. And there are some good reasons to think cell studies that look promising in the lab won't pan out in real patients, other infectious-disease experts say.

Nonetheless, with all the buzz, American pharmacists are concerned about the hoarding of hydroxychloroquine by people who don't have an immediate need.

"Our members are definitely seeing more demand for this medication and possibly some people trying to hoard the medication," said Todd Brown, executive director of the Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association.

According to Brown, it appears the hoarders include doctors and dentists who are writing prescriptions for themselves or family members.

 

"Pharmacists are seeing an increase in requests and prescriptions for them in instances where it's not clear why the patient needs it at this time," he said.

Brown suggests that pharmacists restrict prescription quantities and fill prescriptions only for patients with an active need for hydroxychloroquine.

In a statement, CVS Health said the company is "monitoring the global pharmaceutical manufacturing environment and working with our suppliers to ensure we can continue filling prescriptions for our pharmacy patients and plan members."

CVS said it has an adequate supply of hydroxychloroquine and is taking steps to make sure the supply remains stable. Some data show hospitals stocking up on the drug as well.

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