Coronavirus - Northam

State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver provides updates on COVID-19 as Gov. Ralph Northam looks on in Richmond on March 22.

In a letter emailed to physicians and pharmacies on Wednesday, Virginia’s state health commissioner warned against improperly prescribing or hoarding drugs purported — but not proven — to be useful in treating COVID-19 that are needed for patients with other serious illnesses.

“In the most recent days, there has been a surge in demand of potential treatments for COVID-19 for drugs commonly used to treat malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, bacterial infections and other conditions,” wrote Norman Oliver. “This is leading to an inadequate medication supply for patients already taking these medications for chronic conditions and hospitalized COVID-19 patients being treated with these medications under facility-specific treatment protocols while studies are ongoing.”

Oliver added that there are currently no antiviral drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. Some studies suggest there may be potential therapeutic effect of some agents against related coronaviruses, he said.

“But there are no available data from observational studies or randomized controlled trials in humans for the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to support recommending any investigational therapeutics for patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 at this time,” Oliver wrote in his letter, sent to more than 68,000 prescribers and pharmacists across the state.

A story in the New York Times on Tuesday said doctors are hoarding medications touted as possible coronavirus treatments by writing prescriptions for themselves and family members, according to pharmacy boards in states across the country.

Stockpiling in Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas has led the boards in those states to issue emergency restrictions or guidelines on how the drugs can be dispensed at pharmacies.

Oliver’s letter said the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Health Professions recommends the following:

  • Prescriptions for chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, mefloquine and azithromycin should be restricted in the outpatient setting and should require a diagnosis “consistent with the evidence for its use.”
  • Community pharmacists should use professional judgment to determine whether a prescription is valid and that there is a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship prior to dispensing.
  • Prioritize treatment for continuation of existing medication therapy, inpatient settings and other indications where there is not an alternative therapy.
  • Advise against hoarding these medications or stockpiling.

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