Rheumatologists seek to reassure amid hydroxychloroquine shortage


Physicians and pharmacists are reporting shortages of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine following President Trump’s promotion of the medications as potential COVID-19 treatments, leaving patients with rheumatic diseases wondering how it will impact their access.

Dr. Jill P. Buyon, rheumatology division director and Lupus Center director at NYU Langone Health

Dr. Jill P. Buyon

The American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association, and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, issued a joint statement that strongly opposed prophylactic prescribing of these medications for COVID-19 or stockpiling them in anticipation of use for COVID-19. The concerns over shortages have also prompted the American College of Rheumatology, American Academy of Dermatology, Arthritis Foundation, and Lupus Foundation of America to send a joint statement to the Trump administration and the nation’s governors highlighting critical hydroxychloroquine access issues and asking policymakers to work together with health care providers and patient communities to ensure continued availability of these drugs.

Now rheumatologists are trying to reassure patients with lupus or other rheumatic diseases who take the antimalarials that they will be available and are relatively easy for manufacturers to produce.

In a Q and A interview, NYU Langone Health rheumatology division director and Lupus Center director Jill P. Buyon, MD, and associate professor of rheumatology, Peter M. Izmirly, MD, noted that, while shortages have been reported across the United States because of large increases in off-label prescribing, many of the drugs’ manufacturers have committed to donating millions of doses and/or stepping up production to meet demand.

Dr. Peter M. Izmirly, associate professor of rheumatology at NYU Langone Health

Dr. Peter M. Izmirly

Later in this article, Michael H. Pillinger, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine, biochemistry, and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone Health, New York, answered questions about a new multicenter study called COLCORONA getting underway to test the anti-inflammatory drug colchicine. The answers in this Q&A have been edited for length and clarity.

Questions about hydroxychloroquine shortage

Q: What is the current situation with hydroxychloroquine in your practice?

A: We have been getting calls from our patients asking about getting refills for hydroxychloroquine. Our group has been calling local pharmacies asking about the availability of hydroxychloroquine, and we are compiling a list of pharmacies in New York with current availabilities to share with patients. We are somewhat limited by our electronic health record system, Epic, which can only send a prescription to one pharmacy, so that has placed some limitations on knowing where it is available. Some pharmacies have not had hydroxychloroquine available, while others have. We have also been encouraging patients to check online and look for mail-order possibilities for 90-day supplies.

Nearly all prescriptions are for generic hydroxychloroquine. Branded hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is much more expensive, and we can run into obstacles with getting it approved by insurers, too.

Q: What are you telling patients who seek to refill their prescription or call with concerns? Is it feasible for patients to stop hydroxychloroquine or cut their dosage if necessary?

A: If someone’s been on hydroxychloroquine and has benefited from its use there’s no reason to come off it at this time, and given the possibility that it may have an effect on COVID-19, that is all the better. But we want to reassure patients that they can get the drug and that it is not difficult to manufacture.


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