Image via Shutterstock Pharmacy boards have issued new restrictions on medications touted as coronavirus treatments
Image via Shutterstock

The hoarding has become so problematic in Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas that the pharmacy boards in those states have issued emergency guidelines.

It’s no secret that doctors are on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, thus more at risk of contracting the virus. But they’re still supposed to put patients first. And while many are, a growing number aren’t. 

The New York Times and ProPublica reported Tuesday that doctors across the country are stockpiling medications touted as possible coronavirus treatments by writing prescriptions for themselves and their families.

“It’s disgraceful, is what it is,” Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, told ProPublica. “And completely selfish.”

The hoarding has become so problematic in Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas that the pharmacy boards in those states have issued emergency restrictions or guidelines on how the drugs can be dispensed at pharmacies.

“This is a real issue and it is not some product of a few isolated bad apples,” Jay Campbell, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy told the Times.

The medications being prescribed vary from state to state, but include chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump has touted as potential breakthrough treatments for COVID-19, which has infected nearly 47,000 Americans and killed 593. Trump has falsely stated that chloroquine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that early results were “very encouraging.” 

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Trump’s statements have sent demand for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine surging. As a result, lupus patients are struggling to refill their prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil, and the lack of medication is putting their lives at risk.

The run on chloroquine, meanwhile, has caused a global shortage of the drug, which is used to treat malaria. That doctors are among those hoarding prescriptions is all the more troubling because there is no conclusive evidence that any of the drugs are effective in treating the coronavirus.

Idaho was the first state to impose restrictions, with the state board of pharmacy enacting a temporary rule that bans pharmacies from dispensing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine unless the prescription includes a written diagnosis of a condition that the drugs have been proven to treat. The state’s rule also limits prescriptions to a 14-day supply, unless a patient had been previously taking the medication, and bars refills unless a new prescription is provided.

“We wanted to try to get out in front of that as early as we could,” Nicki Chopski, executive director of the board in Idaho, told the Times.

Chopski and her colleagues issued the rule after pharmacists reported a significant increase in prescriptions for the medications last week, with most of the prescriptions written for doctors themselves or their family members and often written for large quantities with refills.

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Texas and Ohio followed suit with their own rules, with the latter also banning pharmacists from dispensing the drugs to treat coronavirus unless a patient had tested positive for COVID-19 or the request had been directly approved by the pharmacy board’s executive director. Other states, like Kentucky, have offered broad guidelines instead of instituting legally binding orders. The Kentucky Board of Pharmacy urged pharmacists to “use professional judgment” in deciding whether to fill prescriptions written by doctors for themselves and their family members.

Representatives for CVS and Walgreens told the Times said their pharmacists will follow all state regulations.

The consequences of Trump’s promotion of unapproved drugs continued to play out on Monday, when an Arizona man died after ingesting the wrong form chloroquine, also known as chloroquine phosphate.

The man and his wife had heard Trump talking about the drug as a possible cure for the coronavirus, so they both took the drug as a “preventative measure” to reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19. But chloroquine phosphate can be formulated in different ways—as a human medication, but also as an aquarium cleaner. 

Unbeknownst to them, the couple took the aquarium cleaner.