SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The South Dakota board that oversees pharmacies in the state has issued emergency restrictions on several drugs President Donald Trump has touted as a treatment for COVID-19 despite a lack of scientific evidence.
The state Board of Pharmacy order guides pharmacists to prioritize prescriptions of the drugs, including hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, fearing shortages for those who currently need them to treat a wide range of conditions, said Kari Shanard-Koenders, the board's executive director.
"While FDA has not approved any drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, there are several drugs being promoted as potential treatment options," she said. "Because of these, there are concerns about the supply of these drugs that are currently needed to treat such conditions as malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders."
The order covers the following drugs: chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, mefloquine and azithromycin. The order was effective upon the board's April 2 approval.
The order gives pharmacists the OK to prioritize prescriptions for current patients who need the drugs. It limits any new prescriptions for the drugs to a 14-day supply, strictly due to concerns about their steady supply, Shanard-Koenders said, with refills requiring a new prescription or medication order.
Trump has led the cheerleading for doctors to use the drugs to treat COVID-19 patients, despite a lack of scientific evidence they are effective against the illness, hawking the drugs many times in recent press conferences in recent weeks.
"What do you have to lose?" he asked repeatedly at a press conference on Sunday, citing his "common sense" as justification for encouraging use of the medicine.
But Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, quickly responded to Trump's question the same day, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, saying she wouldn't personally prescribe the drugs for COVID-19 based on the available evidence.
“There could be negative side effects. There could be deaths," she said. "This is a new virus, and so we should not be promoting any medication or drug for any disease that has not been proven and approved by the FDA.”
There is evidence the drugs have been prescribed to COVID-19 patients in China and in the U.S., providing only anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness. According to the American Medical Association, they've even been taken as a preventive measures by some physicians and others. But there have been very limited scientific research into whether the drugs work to treat the disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization in late March allowing doctors to prescribe the drugs on a case-by-case basis to coronavirus patients who are hospitalized and not responding to other treatments, in what's known as "off-label" prescribing.
Trump's advocacy, echoed by many of his supporters, has helped fuel a run on the drugs. In one case, a husband and wife in their 60s in Arizona self-medicated by swallowing chloroquine phosphate, a similarly named substance used to clean fish tanks. He died, Banner Health reported March 23, and his wife was in critical care.
Both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are now listed on the FDA's shortage list.
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