The FDA officially authorized the use of certain anti-malaria drugs for use to treat COVID-19, and the state is already making those drugs available to hospitals in South Florida. But people who rely on them to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are worried what it will do to their supply.
Hydroxychloroquine supplies plummeted when the federal government announced it could be a potential treatment for coronavirus. Now, pharmacies are changing their policies to help make sure patients who need the treatments can still get them.
“I’ve never been questioned on refilling my hydroxychloroquine before,”” Lee McGraw said. “But, when I called to have it refilled, she said, ‘Oh, well hold on.'”
McGraw is a lupus patient who relies on the hydroxychloroquine to treat her disease, and others like her worry about a dwindling supply due to the new response to coronavirus.
“This is something that’s really life-threatening for a lot of people,” McGraw said.
And people with rheumatoid arthritis such as Karen Howland worry too.
“It’s really critical to like being able to move about and not be in excruciating pain and inflammation,”” Howland said.
Sunday, the FDA authorized hydroxychloroquine and other drugs for use in COVID-19 treatment. Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis says it’s already gone out to hospitals in South Florida.
“We want the physicians to be able to have the opportunity to do that if a patient comes in and is infected and that can make a difference,” DeSantis said at a press conference.
Thankfully, the FDA also announced it’s working with manufacturers to increase production. And pharmacies have taken action to preserve their supply and limit stockpiling.
We reached out to some popular pharmacies in our area — Walgreens, CVS and Publix — and each say they’ve adjusted their guidelines, such as limiting refills on new prescriptions to 14 days or less.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says there are currently no officially approved treatments for COVID-19, and clinical trials are still needed. But anecdotal reports suggest these drugs might offer some benefit to coronavirus patients.
See the statements we received from pharmacies:
Treatment options for COVID-19 are currently under investigation. Some of the current medicines being studied for the treatment of COVID-19 include hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine phosphate, remdisivir, baloxavir and lopinavir/ritonavir. The prescribing and administration of these investigational medications for COVID-19 are considered “off-label.”
Many pharmacies are seeing an increase in prescriptions for these medicines. To help ensure these medicines remain available for those who need it, we have issued guidelines to our pharmacies on any new prescription for chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for patients who do not have a prior history of use. These guidelines are as follows:
- 14 day supply limit for new prescriptions
- 30 day supply limit for refill or prescriptions with a prior history of use
- All active 90 day-prescriptions should be limited to 30 days
There are currently no FDA-approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19. We recommend our customers and communities continue to focus on preventative measures as recommended by the CDC which include thorough handwashing and practicing social distancing.
If new medications are identified as potential treatment options for patients with COVID-19, Walgreens will proactively review to determine if similar measures are required.
We’re closely monitoring the global pharmaceutical manufacturing environment and working with our suppliers to ensure we can continue filling prescriptions for pharmacy patients and plan members.
We’re also balancing the growing interest in off-label use of certain prescription medications (hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, azithromycin, one protease inhibitor and albuterol inhalers) to treat COVID-19 pneumonia with the ongoing needs of patients and members who are prescribed these drugs to help manage chronic conditions such as lupus, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Our goal is to limit stockpiling of medication that could result in future shortages and gaps in care.
Our retail pharmacies are following dispensing guidelines regarding the use of these medications for COVID-19 that have been established in certain states. In states with no guidelines, our pharmacies are limiting the dispensing for COVID-19 treatment to a 10-day supply with no refills.
Our PBM, with client consent, is setting appropriate limits on the quantity of these medications for potential use in treating COVID-19. Plan members who already take these medications for approved uses will be able to bypass any new quantity limits agreed to by their plan sponsor.
Currently, Publix Pharmacies are filling prescriptions for 14 pills of hydroxychloroquine unless it is a confirmed COVID-19 case. In that event, the pharmacist will fill a prescription within reason, which is currently a 14-day supply.
We will continue to fill those patients who were getting this prescribed previously with Publix as a maintenance drug. We are limiting all new scripts.