President Trump expressed optimism about a malaria drug that early evidence indicates may be an effective treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus. Naturally, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer moved immediately to block Michiganders from gaining access to the potentially life-saving medication.
(Hydroxy)chloroquine is an inexpensive drug widely used since 1955 to treat malaria. Growing evidence suggests the drug may be an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients. Given the drug's relatively harmless side effects, some doctors are incorporating the drug as part of their treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus. New York began clinical trials of (hydroxy)chloroquine last week, and Gov. Cuomo has also expressed optimism over the drug's efficacy.
The world is currently in the middle of a pandemic and the luxury of time simply doesn't exist for the typical regulatory processes. With no other alternatives, why not let doctors prescribe (hydroxy)chloroquine to their patients who could only stand to benefit from the drug?
But Gov. Whitmer is more interested in engaging in a political exercise with the president, by acting like the president's optimism in the drug is completely unfounded and we're not in the middle of a global crisis. The governor is willing to gamble with the hopes and the lives of patients in her state.
Gov. Whitmer's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs sent a letter to licensed health professionals in the state warning them not to prescribe (hydroxy)chloroquine as a treatment for the Wuhan coronavirus.
"Prescribing any kind of prescription must also be associated with medical documentation showing proof of the medical necessity and medical condition for which the patient is being treated," the letter states. "Again, these are drugs that have not been proven scientifically or medically to treat COVID-19."
The letter then instructs pharmacists not to fill such prescriptions and tells doctors and pharmacists to rat each other out for prescribing the drug as a treatment for the coronavirus.
"Michigan pharmacists may see an increased volume of prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and should take special care to evaluate the prescriptions’ legitimacy," the letter warns. "Pursuant to Michigan Administrative Code, R 338.490(2), a pharmacist shall not fill a prescription if the pharmacist believes the prescription will be used for other than legitimate medical purposes or if the prescription could cause harm to a patient. It is also important to be mindful that licensed health professionals are required to report inappropriate prescribing practices."
Other countries have already allowed doctors to begin treating coronavirus patients with (hydroxy)chloroquine. And, as large clinical trials get underway, shortages of the drug have been reported, affecting sufferers of lupus who depend on the drug for treatment. But other drugs are already available for the treatment of lupus, though many patients prefer hydroxychloroquine simply because of the drug's lower toxicity.
Drugmakers have already ramped up production of (hydroxy)chloroquine in response to increased demand. Like toilet paper, the drug should be back on the shelves after this temporary hiccup. The focus at this point should be making more of this potentially life-saving drug not restricting its use amid a global pandemic.