EDITORIAL: Drugs a game changer? Let’s find out quickly

EDITORIAL: Drugs a game changer? Let’s find out quickly

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After we saw toilet paper and sanitary wipes disappear from our grocery shelves overnight with the coronavirus panic, this probably shouldn’t have surprised us.

When President Donald Trump touted the use of two little-known drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in conjunction with an antibiotic, as possible “game-changers” to treat COVID-19 in a television address, it immediately prompted a run on the drugs.

The problem is the two drugs haven’t been clinically tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of coronavirus — they’re used to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. And they have potential serious side effects and serious risks for those susceptible to renal failure and hepatic disease.

No matter. Once the president gave his pronouncement, there was a run on the drugs. In just a few days, there were reports that those afflicted by lupus were having trouble getting their regular prescriptions because pharmacies were sold out and the drugs were on back-order.

Unlike the run on toilet paper, the sales of these drugs required someone with a prescription pad and it became apparent quickly that some of the hoarding was being done by doctors who were stockpiling it for themselves, family and friends.

John Q. Public was out of luck.

“This is a real issue and it is not some product of a few isolated bad apples,” said Jay Campbell, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy.

According to a ProPublica news report, a pharmacist in Houston 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.” Another pharmacist said he was called a communist when he rejected a doctor’s self-prescription.

Within short order of the hoarding deluge, pharmacy boards in seven states issued emergency restrictions on dispensing the drugs to curb the behavior of prescribers. The American Medical Association denounced the stockpiling and said it was “calling for a stop to any inappropriate prescribing and ordering of medications, including chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, and appealing to physicians and all health care professionals to follow the highest standards of professionalism and ethics.”

Hopefully, that will put an end to the ethically-challenged script-writing and lupus and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers will be able to get their regular supplies.

But, that’s only half the battle. The real challenge for the Trump administration and the FDA is to determine as quickly as possible if these drugs really are game-changers — now while the deadly game is playing out across the country. If that means expediting — or even foregoing — clinical trials without months of delay, then so be it — issue an emergency waiver.

New York moved to begin trials last week after procuring 70,000 doses of the drugs and Bayer pharmaceutical company has donated 3 million doses of its brand of chloroquine to the federal government.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a study document in the current issue of the journal Bioscience Trends shows that chloroquine phosphate has demonstrated apparent efficacy and acceptable safety against COVID-19-associated pneumonia in trials in China.

The CDC said it is thus considered a recommended anti-viral for COVID-19 treatment in China and several countries are recommending both drugs for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to news reports.

Given that, Trump should use the Defense Production Act of 1950 to ramp up production of the chloroquine drugs immediately and allow patients to sign waivers to get the drugs. Isn’t that what the “Right to Try” law passed by Congress was all about?

Our guess is that many Americans who find themselves lying in a hospital bed in the next several weeks with a ventilator and what feels like a 500-pound gorilla sitting on their chest will gladly sign a waiver and grasp at this straw if it might mean they’ll be kept off the fatality list.

Just ask the doctors who signed bogus prescriptions to protect themselves and their families and friends.

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