Health Information

COVID-19 and Plaquenil

A medication used by CSI Pharmacy patient communities has become a hot topic in the COVID-19 news. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ, brand name Plaquenil) has been identified as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Plaquenil is normally used to treat or prevent malaria. It is also used to treat dermatomyositis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune conditions.

At a White House press briefing last week, President Trump announced that Plaquenil along with its chemically close cousin chloroquine (CQ) are showing early positive results in treating and preventing coronavirus infection. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified this, saying, as of now, these are only anecdotal results and that more scientific evidence is needed to support this use.

Since this announcement, supplies of Plaquenil, which normally are stable, have gone out of stock with some wholesalers because of over-prescribing and panic buying. It is important to note, however, that manufacturer, including Bayer, Mylan, Novartis, and Teva, report that they are stepping up production of HCQ in an effort to meet increased demand.

There are currently no clinically proven therapies for the treatment or prevention of novel coronavirus. Scientists at the NIH and elsewhere are testing CQ and HCQ along with other drugs to determine their safety and effectiveness against the virus. In the meantime, some patients worry that depleted supplies will make it impossible for them to refill prescriptions for Plaquenil, a drug they’ve been using for years to control their symptoms.

“Many patients with rare autoimmune diseases rely on Plaquenil, and we are working to be sure they are not adversely affected by over-prescribing,” says CSI Pharmacy CEO James Sheets.

Since CQ and HCQ became big news, a number of steps have been taken to ensure that those who need these drugs can get them. Chief among them is the fact that their use in COVID-19 should be limited to compassionate use, because it is not an FDA-approved treatment. That is, only those who are severely ill and have no other recourse should be treated with these drugs. These are unprecedented times, however, and information continues to evolve very quickly.

In addition, pharmacy boards in several states have enacted legislation limiting the distribution of these drugs. These include Idaho, where CQ and HCQ can only be prescribed for a diagnosis “consistent with the evidence for their use.” And unless the patient is being treated for a chronic condition, such as dermatomyositis, they will only be dispensed a 14-day supply.

“Our pharmacists at CSI Pharmacy continue to monitor the supply and availability of these medications,” James says. “Many pharmacies do have Plaquenil in stock. Until supplies increase, though, we may only be able to provide a limited supply.”

Medical disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information in this article is accurate, up-to-date, and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. This information is not a substitute for, the expertise, skill, knowledge, and judgement of healthcare practitioners in patient care. CSI Pharmacy assumes no responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of this information. If you have questions about the substances you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.