When it comes to treating the coronavirus, we’ve heard a lot of enthusiasm for an existing drug known as hydroxychloroquine, or hydroxychloroquine sulfate, sold under the brand name Plaquenil. During a limited unblinded study, the drug was able to reduce flu-like symptoms in around 70% of coronavirus patients. President Trump praised the drug at a recent press conference, calling it a potential “game-changer”. However, Dr. Fauci of the National Institute of Health is urging caution. The drug has yet to be tested on a wide variety of patients.
Hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat malaria and rheumatoid arthritis for decades, but now some patients are having trouble filling their prescriptions at local pharmacies. The culprit?
Doctors, physicians, and nurse practitioners have been stockpiling the medication and prescribing it to themselves as a way of protecting themselves from the virus. Not only are these care providers putting themselves at risk by using an untested drug, but they’re also depriving non-virus patients from the drugs they need to survive. It’s time to put this trend to rest.
Rising Demand for Hydroxychloroquine
As soon as President Trump finished his press conference on hydroxychloroquine, demand for the drug skyrocketed around the country. Todd Brown, executive director of the Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association, recently commented on the situation: “Our members are definitely seeing more demand for this medication and possibly some people trying to hoard the medication. 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.”
Hospitals and doctor’s offices are gathering large quantities of the drug in case it becomes an effective treatment for COVID-19. Yet, several states, including Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada and Idaho, are trying to limit the number of inappropriate prescriptions and preserve supplies for patients who take the medicine as approved.
In many cases, healthcare providers seem to be prescribing themselves the drug in case they need a fast way to treat the virus as this pandemic continues. Across the country, thousands of healthcare providers are going without the protective personal gear they need to protect themselves from coronavirus. These providers are worried about putting their health at risk and passing the virus on to their loved ones. Stockpiling hydroxychloroquine may seem like a good insurance policy against the coronavirus, but this behavior is considered unethical, to say the least.
Even if hydroxychloroquine becomes the treatment of our dreams, officials say the drug needs to be preserved for those that need it most, including patients that have the best chances of recovery. Stockpiling hydroxychloroquine also deprives non-virus patients of their medication, including those recovering from malaria, lupus, and those with rheumatoid arthritis. These patients need to take hydroxychloroquine daily to reduce swelling and rashes.
Without an adequate supply of the drug, these patients will begin to swell up and flare. They may then need to go on immunosuppressants or be admitted to a local hospital, which would only increase demand for healthcare services at a time when many facilities are already at or reaching capacity.
The Potential Risks of Using Hydroxychloroquine to Treat COVID-19
Health officials from NIH and the CDC were sending out large quantities of hydroxychloroquine to care providers as part of the Compassionate Use Program, which allows the prescribing of unapproved medications during public health emergencies. However, they have since limited unapproved use of the drug to protect the health of the nation.
That’s because hydroxychloroquine comes with some serious side effects, including headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss; it can also lead to heart and liver problems when mixed with other medications. Some patients have even suffered heart attacks as a result of taking the drug. Other care providers may be allergic to the drug without their knowledge, thus inhibiting their ability to care for patients.
Putting This Trend to Rest
Pharmaceutical companies, including CVS, are currently monitoring the nation’s supply of hydroxychloroquine to make sure it ends up in the right hands. The FDA is still a long way away from approving it as an effective treatment for COVID-19, so health officials need to stop hoarding this medication immediately. They could endanger themselves or their patients without realizing it.
If you believe someone at your facility may be hoarding or prescribing themselves this medication, report it. Consider implementing strict guidelines for prescribing and using hydroxychloroquine at your facility to ensure it is used properly.
As difficult as it may be to care for coronavirus patients without the proper safety gear, don’t let your fears get the better of you. We still need to follow proper protocols and use medication according to FDA guidelines. If we all follow the rules, we will all get through this ongoing crisis together.