An Altamont pharmacist on Friday filled a prescription for a local doctor for 90 days worth of two drugs that are flying off the shelves nationwide since President Donald Trump touted their potential on Twitter as possible treatments for COVID-19.
“There’s no reason for anyone to write a prescription for those for 90 days,” said Doug Phillips, a pharmacist at Altamont Pharmacy.
Phillips is now trying to find hydroxychloroquine, known by the brand name Plaquenil and used to treat chronic ailments such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and the anti-malarial chloroquine.
“You can’t get it. It’s totally unavailable,” he said. “It’s like the drug disappeared.”
ProPublica reported in a bulletin to its members on Sunday that the Illinois Pharmacists Association said it was “disturbed by the current actions of prescribers.” It instructed members on how to file a complaint against physicians and nurses who were doing it.
“It’s disgraceful is what it is,” Garth Reynolds, executive director of the association, told the nonprofit news service. “And completely selfish.”
Phillips said he did not report the doctor.
Other pharmacists across the Effingham region report similar difficulty finding the drugs for patients who have been depending upon them for years.
Andrew Altman, a pharmacist at Andes Health Mart Pharmacy in Effingham, said he usually keeps a supply of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in stock. But his shelves are empty of the two drugs.
LaDonna Poehler, a pharmacist for the Medicine Shoppe in Newton and Poehler Pharmacy in Dieterich, said her pharmacies have several patients on hydroxychloroquine. The drug has been scarce in recent days, she said.
“We have a few pills on the shelf,” she said. “But it’s been hard to get.”
Courtney Carr, a pharmacist for Kirby Pharmacy in Effingham, has not noticed a shortage. She said her pharmacy keeps hydroxychloroquine in stock because she has patients with rheumatoid arthritis who need the medication.
Policies are in place at HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital to guard against hoarding, according to Michael Murbarger, director of pharmacy at Hospital Sisters Health System.
“HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital’s pharmacy has a process in place to secure adequate supplies of medications to meet patient demand,” Murbarger said. “This process discourages any hoarding behaviors that may occur in times of shortages.”
The shortage has one Indiana woman worried.
After the birth of her daughter in 2018, Angela started having extreme joint pain to the point where lifting her newborn became unbearable.
“I couldn’t lift her out of her crib and nurse her at night. I would just sit and cry,” said Angela, who asked her full name be withheld to reduce the likelihood that someone would target her family to try and steal the medication. “It was debilitating.”
A rheumatologist diagnosed Angela with rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed Plaquenil, a drug she said she has used since November 2018.
Angela takes two Plaquenil daily, combined with another drug, to manage her pain and function as a mother of two. Like many Hoosiers, Angela’s older child, in preschool, has started e-learning at home after his school closed.
Before this week, Angela planned to weather the storm at home and didn’t worry about her supply. But on March 21, Trump tweeted about the drug and reports trickled in about the shortage.
“It’s never been a problem to get it in the past,” Angela said. “I heard President Trump’s statements about the drug and so I started becoming a little concerned … I was hearing from Facebook groups that some of the people that were in those groups that had rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions were having a lot of trouble getting their prescriptions filled now.”
Angela called her rheumatologist with concerns about the supply after a call to the pharmacist. She said she was told to reduce her daily dosage to one pill and that her next refill would also be reduced to one pill daily.
“I asked them, ‘Would you say this because that’s what’s best for my treatment or would you say this is due to the shortage?’” Angela said. “She said, very carefully … ‘I think that your symptoms will still be managed, and it’s also because of the shortage.’
“That just left me feeling a little bit frustrated because … I felt like the decision was being made because of the pandemonium.”