I-TEAM: Local pharmacy tapped out of drug pushed as potential treatment for coronavirus

(Source: WRDW)
(Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 4:11 PM EDT
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and thermometers are difficult to find in stock at area pharmacies.

But now add chloroquine to the list. The drug is prescribed for several diseases and most recently -- COVID-19. New York began a trial using it along with Tamiflu to treat the virus.

Don’t even bother coming by Parks Pharmacy to fill a chloroquine prescription right now. They’ve been out of the drug since last week.

Chloroquine began flying off shelves even before President Donald J. Trump mentioned the possible treatment for COVID-19 on Thursday.

“We already sold out,” Jonathan Drew, a pharmacist from Parks Pharmacy, said.

Orders of chloroquine shot up 3,000 percent this month. Up until the outbreak, hospitals ordered an average of 149 units of the drug a month. This month so far? Two-thousand three hundred units.

“It was probably our busiest 4-5 day stretch period in the last year that I can remember,” Drew said.

The antiviral medication has been around for the last 90 years. It's primarily used to prevent and treat malaria but is also prescribed for autoimmune diseases like arthritis and lupus. More recently, scientists in France and China reported using it and a similar drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients with success in small case studies.

The drug is not FDA-approved for COVID-19, but the government is allowing healthcare providers to use it as an experimental treatment.

There are risks. This week, a man died after ingesting a fish cleaning additive made with the same active ingredient as chloroquine phosphate.

“If you don’t get it from a drug store, do not ingest anything because there could be additives in that stuff that you don’t know, and they may not even have it on the label,” Drew said. “It doesn’t go through the same scrutiny that prescription medications go through.”

Pharmacies like Parks aren’t sure when they will get the next shipment of the medication. Instead, they are urging patients who use the drug to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to call their doctor now, come up with a plan, and a possible alternative.

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