Beginning Thursday, hydroxychloroquine can no longer be used to treat coronavirus in Ohio.
Pharmacies, clinics and other medical institutions will be prohibited from dispensing or selling the drug to treat COVID-19, according to new regulations issued by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy. It can still be used in clinical trials, said Cameron McNamee, director of policy and communications for the board.
Hydroxychloroquine has been touted by President Donald Trump despite medical studies showing the drug to be ineffective at treating the disease. The drug may also cause serious cardiac side effects, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“Basically, it’s a patient safety issue,” McNamee said. “We’re looking at the best science to determine what’s best for the patients of Ohio.”
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-June revoked an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine which had allowed it to be used to treat COVID-19 patients. Despite the FDA’s revocation and until now, it could technically still be used for off-label treatment of the virus in Ohio, McNamee said.
Pharmacists in Ohio found to be selling or dispensing the drug to treat COVID-19 now that it is prohibited could face disciplinary action ranging anywhere from a warning or fine to a temporary suspension of their license. But, McNamee said the action taken would depend on the situation.
“The long and short of it is, we want ppl to focus on what works, such as social distancing and mask use,” McNamee said. “We ultimately want to make sure people are being safe and not exposing themselves to drugs that have shown not to be effective in treating COVID-19.”
The board’s move to ban the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 comes as misinformation continues to spread about it. As recently as this week, Trump has promoted the drug and said he took it as a preventative measure.
McNamee said the board’s decision had nothing to do with Trump’s continued endorsement of hydroxychloroquine.
This isn’t the first time the state pharmacy board has stepped in to regulate the use of the drug during the pandemic.
In March, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy cracked down on doctors who were hoarding hydroxychloroquine for themselves, family and friends in case it was needed. At that time, the board implemented restrictions that said the drug could be prescribed only for those who had tested positive for COVID-19.
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Hydroxychloroquine is typically used to treat malaria, a mosquito-borne illness that causes fever, chills and influenza-like symptoms, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is also used to treat conditions that cause inflammation, such as lupus and forms of arthritis.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Ohio Department of Health stockpiled the drug in case it turned out to be a good treatment.
The state purchased more than 2 million hydroxychloroquine pills for $602,629 on April 9, Melanie Amato, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said via email in June. On April 20, Capital Wholesale Drug in Columbus donated 2 million hydroxychloroquine pills — worth about $680,000 — from drug maker Prasco, which is based in Mason, Ohio.
The amount of pills stockpiled by the state is equivalent to nearly two years’ worth of prescriptions that the state typically would use for its managed-care programs, according to data provided by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“The company that donated the 2 million pills is taking them back,” Amato said via email Wednesday. “The ones we purchased we are still looking at options at donating them to foundations that can use them to treat lupus and malaria.”
Dispatch reporters Rick Rouan and Lucas Sullivan contributed to this story.
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