ALEXANDRIA, Va. (March 30, 2020) - Local pharmacists overwhelmingly disagree with recent actions by some states to limit the dispensing of a well-established malaria drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, a new national survey shows.
"Our members are clearly worried that this has become a political football," said B. Douglas Hoey, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), the country's leading advocate for 21,000 independent pharmacies. "This a well-established drug that has been in use for decades for malaria as well as other conditions. We know it can be used safely with the proper oversight of a physician and pharmacist. Efforts to restrict stockpiling and hoarding are appropriate and there is limited data indicating that it may be effective against COVID-19, but Americans who are infected and their doctors have a right to try."
President Trump sparked a run on the drugs several weeks ago when he expressed confidence that they can be used to treat patients infected with COVID-19 which created a scramble resulting in supply shortages. Some state boards of pharmacy and at least two governors responded by placing restrictions on dispensing them. Just days ago, however, the FDA announced emergency use authorization for one of the drugs held in the national stockpile.
"The states have a legitimate concern about hoarding, unethical prescribing, and shortages for existing patients. There may be some relief if hospitals choose to obtain it from the national stockpile or if pharmacies are allowed to compound the medications," said Hoey. "Pharmacies may still see prescriptions for off-label use but, I think that's a decision that should be made by patients testing positive and their doctor and pharmacist, and not regulators or political officials."
According to the NCPA survey, 83.8 percent of independent pharmacists say they should be able to dispense a limited supply of the drugs as long the patient has tested positive and is under a doctor's care, and 68.4 percent think the state restrictions have gone too far.
"Pharmacists have been providing patient's expert advice and dispensing these drugs safely for years to treat other conditions, like Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who test positive for COVID-19, and who are hospitalized or at home and under the care of a physician, should have the choice to get a limited supply of the treatment," said Hoey.
The survey also found that 90 percent of local pharmacists, who are often the only healthcare providers in rural and underserved communities, said they're having a hard time getting the drugs.
"This is a real concern for patients who are currently taking the drugs for other conditions, and who now cannot find it anywhere. The state restrictions are complicating that problem," he said.
In fact, 66.8 of independent pharmacists believe the states that have restricted patient access to the drugs could be endangering patient lives.
"Many patients need these drugs for other serious conditions. The EUA creates a program for more controlled use and adverse event reporting. We hope to see more evidence to be optimistic that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could be effective for some people against COVID-19," said Hoey. "Certainly, we need more data. But cutting off the supply for patients who are under the appropriate medical supervision and who could benefit is an overreaction."
The NCPA COVID-19 Survey was conducted between March 26 and March 30. It was sent to approximately 8,000 independent pharmacy owners and managers, with 460 responding.
For more information about NCPA, please visit www.ncpa.org.
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Founded in 1898, the National Community Pharmacists Association is the voice for the community pharmacist, representing 21,000 pharmacies that employ 250,000 individuals nationwide. Community pharmacies are rooted in the communities where they are located and are among America's most accessible health care providers. To learn more, visit www.ncpanet.org.