NCPA survey: Pharmacists back access to experimental COVID-19 treatment

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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Local pharmacists overwhelmingly disagree with recent actions by some states to limit the dispensing of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19, according to a recent National Community Pharmacists Association COVID-19 survey.

On March 28, the Food and Drug Administration announced emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to be distributed and used for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19

“Our members are clearly worried that this has become a political football,” said Doug Hoey, NCPA CEO. “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," NCPA said.

“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,” Hoey said. “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.”

The NCPA survey found that 83.8% of independent pharmacists said 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, while 68.4% think the state restrictions have gone too far.

“Pharmacists have been providing patients expert advice and dispensing these drugs safely for years to treat other conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis,” Hoey said. "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.”

The survey also found that 90% 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,” Hoey said. "The state restrictions are complicating that problem.”

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,” Hoey said. “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.”