Pharmacists are seeing unusual and fraudulent prescribing activity as doctors stockpile unproven coronavirus drugs endorsed by President Donald Trump, ProPublica reported Tuesday, via The Huffington Post.
A nationwide shortage of two drugs touted as possible treatments for the coronavirus is being driven in part by doctors inappropriately prescribing the medicines for themselves their family, and friends, pharmacists and state regulators told ProPublica.
“It’s disgraceful, is what it is,” said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which started getting calls and emails Saturday from members saying they were receiving questionable prescriptions. “And completely selfish.”
In a bulletin to pharmacists on Sunday, the state association wrote that it was “disturbed by the current actions of prescribers” and instructed members on how to file a complaint against physicians and nurses who were doing it.
“People are losing their minds about this product,” said Brian Brito, president of SMP Pharmacy Solutions in Miami. “We’re selling so much of this stuff and people are just stockpiling it prophylactically if anybody in their family gets sick — they’re just holding on to it.”
The two drugs are only available through a prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter. Hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil, is approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis while chloroquine is an anti-malarial treatment.
There is little evidence that the drugs work to treat coronavirus, although clinical trials are underway to find out. But Brito said his pharmacy had about 800 tablets on Monday and were nearly sold out in about an hour.
One doctor called and asked for 200 tablets, but the company refused. “He was a little upset about it but he understood and he went quickly from 200 to 42 tablets, which is essentially treating two people,” Brito said. “So yeah, they’re stockpiling it.”
A pharmacist in Houston, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and violating patient privacy, said he was recently asked by a surgeon for an unusually large quantity with unlimited refills. “He said it was because his wife had lupus,” the pharmacist said, “but when I asked him for her name and diagnosis, he told me just to put it in his.”
The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, in an alert Saturday, ordered pharmacists to limit new prescriptions to no more than 30 tablets and only to cases where the drugs were being used for approved indications.
“Currently, both nationally and in West Virginia, some prescribers have begun writing prescriptions for these drugs for family, friends, and coworkers in anticipation of Covid-19 related illness,” the board wrote.
Experts are warning that any use of the drugs outside of a hospital setting can be dangerous, and admonished doctors to stop prescribing the medicines inappropriately.
Daniel Brooks, the medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix, said it was “immoral” for physicians to hoard the medications.
“One should not be selfish and scared, especially medical providers,” he said. “I find it incredibly embarrassing and unfortunate that physicians appear to be prescribing these medications inappropriately.”
Ken Thai, the owner of a chain of Los Angeles-area pharmacies, said his stores are witnessing a rash of inappropriate prescribing.
“A lot of physicians, unfortunately, are writing high amounts for more than the required number of tablets and calling in five, six, seven and eight prescriptions at a time,” he said. “I don’t want to insinuate what is going on, but it is very unusual.”
He said his pharmacists are declining to fill suspicious orders and telling prescribers they don’t have enough of the medication on hand to complete those requests.
“If a doctor is writing a prescription for himself or aunts and uncles, that is usually a red flag for us,” he said. “Whatever we have in stock, we have to preserve for the patients we currently service.”
On Twitter, pharmacy workers traded stories about dentists and ophthalmologists requesting hydroxychloroquine under dubious pretenses. “A dentist just tried to call in scripts for hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin for himself, his wife, & another couple (friends),” tweeted a pharmacist in Eugene, Oregon. “I have patients with lupus that have been on HCQ [Hydroxychloroquine] for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”
Well it finally happened to me.
A dentist just tried to call in scripts for hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin for himself, his wife, & another couple (friends).
I have patients with lupus that have been on HCQ for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.
— Katherine Rowland (@DRxKatherine) March 22, 2020
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