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Pharmacists must limit malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis dispensing due to drug hoarding

The day after President Donald Trump said certain drugs may help treat COVID-19, Texas pharmacies were flooded with prescriptions.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas State Board of Pharmacy issued an emergency rule limiting certain drugs. These drugs fight malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“The first thing in the morning, the phone started ringing and emails started coming in,” said Allison Benz, executive director/secretary for the Texas State Board of Pharmacy.

The board regulates all pharmacies and pharmacists in Texas.

Benz said pharmacies around the state started asking for help because they were flooded with prescriptions they don’t see often.

It came the day after President Donald Trump said the drugs may help treat COVID-19.

The prescriptions were for chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, mefloquine and azithromycin. These meds typically are used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“These medications, for the most part, are ones you're probably not going to get a prescription even every day, let alone like two or three. They are getting nine, 14, you know, by lunchtime,” said Benz.

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Benz said some doctors prescribed the drugs to people who don’t need them and said doctors may be doing it as a preventative and in case the medications treat COVID-19.

“There's definitely nothing in the information that I can find about preventative,” said Benz.

Benz said wholesalers ran out of the medications to send to pharmacies.

She cautioned that taking prescription drugs when it’s not needed can be deadly.

The Board of Pharmacy called an emergency meeting last Friday. They issued these requirements:

  • Only certain doctors can call for the script
  • The order is limited to a 14-day supply
  • No refills without a new prescription

Other states joined Texas in limiting the amount of these drugs a person can get.

The Lupus Foundation of America sent a joint statement to President Trump asking his administration to help.

“Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and malaria are the only indications for which these drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In many cases, there are no alternatives to hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine,” wrote the foundation.

The letter asks the president to:

  1. Work with the pharmaceutical industry, pharmacies and the FDA to:
    • increase monitoring and timely reporting of shortages and to mitigate the shortage that has resulted from an increased demand for these drugs 
    • utilize existing authorities to increase the production and supply of the drugs; and
    • take action to ensure current supplies are allocated for patients taking them for indicated uses and that any increase in supply be available for continued access, not diverted for use in COVID-19
  2. Communicate to the public, healthcare professionals, and other stakeholders accurate and up-to-date information about these drugs, their critical role in treatment for the current indications and the status of their use for COVID-19, including clinical trials underway and what is known or not known about the safety and efficacy of these drugs in COVID-19;
  3. Ensure sufficient supplies for the people who take these drugs for the indicated uses by implementing restrictions to minimize unnecessary prescribing or stockpiling of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine solely for use in COVID-19;
  4. Monitor and take action as necessary to prevent unreasonable price increases or cost sharing for the drugs;
  5. Give patients who take these medications for indicated uses ongoing access to refills of a 90-day supply of these medications to prepare them for emergency in case of sudden shortage and establish policies to assist patients with cost-sharing related to emergency supplies;
  6. Limit prior authorization and utilization management practices that may delay access to these medications for those for whom the medications are indicated.

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