Doctors are prescribing drug that may help treat coronavirus for family and friends: "Unethical and selfish"

Pharmacists share warning about COVID drugs
Pharmacists share warning about COVID drugs 04:51

Some doctors are writing prescriptions for a drug that may help treat coronavirus for their family and friends, one pharmacist said, calling their actions "unethical and selfish." Hydroxychloroquine has not been clinically proven to be safe or successful in treating coronavirus, and yet the increased demand for it is making it harder for people who need it to control their chronic diseases to get it.

Hydroxychloroquine is a less toxic derivative of chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug. It often treats autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and is sold under the brand name, Plaquenil. 

Recent data show chloroquine orders spiked 3,000% in March and hydroxychloroquine orders rose 260%. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved these drugs for treatment of the coronavirus, but doctors are allowed to prescribe them.

Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-created the show "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," has lupus and has been taking hydroxychloroquine since she was first diagnosed with the disease. 

"The one consistent medication I've been on since I was 15 daily is hydroxychloroquine," she told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. 

Her lupus has been severe, requiring several hospitalizations, and the drug is a cornerstone of her treatment. Hydroxychloroquine, she said, is "a necessity."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that patients who rely on prescribed medication try to get an extra supply, but Tancharoen's doctor tried.

"She called it into my local pharmacy. She also called it into the mail-order pharmacy. Neither of those places can fill it for me because it's so back-ordered," Tancharoen said. "Thankfully I still have a month's supply in my cabinet, but of course, I don't know how long this is going to last."

President Donald Trump has touted the drug as a possible coronavirus treatment, calling it "a game-changer," but medical experts are only now testing it in trials. 

Still, pharmacists across the country say it's flying off the shelves.

"We're seeing prescribers calling into pharmacies and trying to obtain mass quantities of hydroxychloroquine, or Plaquenil," said Garth Reynolds, the executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. 

He said a lot of these prescriptions are being called in for family members or friends of doctors.

"I understand why some prescribers decided to do this, but this was an unethical and selfish action," Reynolds said.

It's not just in Illinois. Pharmacists around the country have shared similar stories. In Florida, a pharmacist told ProPublica, one doctor tried to get 200 tablets of the drug.

Asked what he would say to one of the doctors who is unnecessarily prescribing hydroxychloroquine, Reynolds said, "I completely understand why you're taking this action, you're wanting to protect your family or yourself ... but you and I both took oaths to protect patients."

Tancharoen, who is a Lupus Foundation of America ambassador, knows she's not alone.

"All of us are in the same boat so we just don't know how long this is going to last," she said. 

CVS Pharmacy announced it is setting quantity limits on the drugs to help protect the supply, but people like Tancharoen who are already on it can bypass that. The drug must still go through clinical trials to be approved by the FDA. New York moved to begin such trials on Tuesday.