Since a French study found that an inexpensive anti-malaria drug from World War II could greatly reduce the effects of COVID-19, the drug has become increasingly scarce, leaving those who depend on it daily struggling to fill lifesaving prescriptions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently evaluating the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with an antibiotic in reducing symptoms caused by coronavirus. The drug also has anti-inflammatory properties and is commonly used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Nacogdoches resident Ashley Jackson who was diagnosed with lupus about three years ago takes hydroxycholorquin daily, and was down to her last few doses on Friday. Only one pharmacy in town had the drug in stock after orders for chloroquine spiked 3,000% this month and its variant hydroxycholorquin saw a 260% increase in demand.
“We just figured all of this stuff out within the last hour or hour and a half. We’ve called every pharmacy in Nac. The only pharmacy that has any is Kroger. They told my husband that they had just issued a corporate policy for Kroger that they will not fill any new prescriptions for hydroxycholorquine,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she is worried that healthy patients who heard the news of the drugs’ possibilities in treating coronavirus are having providers write prescriptions for unneeded doses.
“We’re talking about patients who are purely panic buying this medication and that prevents people like me from getting medication that literally keeps us alive on a daily basis,” she said.
The drug went into shortage officially on March 19 according to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists. All major wholesale distributors put the drugs on allocation this week, which limits ordering to prevent holding, according to a report published Saturday by industry news outlet Modern Healthcare.
Doctors have begun to warn patients to not to take the drugs unless prescribed.
“Both drugs affect the QT interval of your heart and can lead to arrhythmias and sudden death, especially if you are taking other meds or have a heart condition,” tweeted Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease specialist and molecular epidemiologist.
Jackson said several of her family members with autoimmune diseases have died at early ages from blood clots. The mother is taking extra precautions against coronavirus, and also hoping to find a steady supply of hydroxycholorquin to lower her risk of blood clotting.
“If I were to get it, it could be more severe than it would be on your average 40 year old,” she said.
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were developed in the 1940s and tested extensively during World War II to treat and prevent malaria in troops stationed in tropical climates. The drugs, however, are highly toxic, though hydroxychloroquine is the less lethal of the two. Nigeria this week reported two cases of chloroquine poisoning after U.S. President Donald Trump praised the drug as a treatment for the novel coronavirus.