Lupus patients have trouble getting drug believed to be possible COVID-19 treatment

A Punta Gorda woman says she received push back after trying to refill her medication at the pharmacy for the first time in 36 years. That’s because there’s a national run on a drug that is being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

For Lupus patients like Lee McGraw, hydroxychloroquine is a lifesaver.

“This is our first line of defense against the illness,” she said.

The medication has been used to treat Lupus for years. It helps stabilize the auto-immune disease, reduces patients’ flare-ups and protects their organs from irreversible damage.

For many Lupus patients taking the drug, it’s their only option.

“Nothing does the same thing that acts as an anti-viral like Plaquenil does, like hydroxychloroquine,” McGraw said.

But now, it’s gaining new attention as a possible treatment for COVID-19. With the drug’s sudden popularity comes new challenges.

“I’ve never been questioned on refilling my hydroxychloroquine before, but when I called to have it refilled, she said, ‘Oh, well hold on,'” McGraw said.

The Lupus Foundation of America says now, patients can’t fill their prescriptions, pharmacies have depleted their supplies and half of the drugs’ manufacturers are reporting back-orders.

“I’ve heard several instances where friends, friends who are doctors, will write them a script to have the Plaquenil on hand just in case. That’s ridiculous. And ‘just in case’ may never come,” she said.

Now, the foundation is asking the president’s coronavirus task force to find ways to increase the production and supply of hydroxychloroquine, limit unnecessary prescribing or stockpiling of the medication and allow 90-day refills so patients can survive a sudden shortage.

“This is something that’s really life-threatening for a lot of people,” McGraw said.

Until that happens, McGraw has a message for people hoping to stock up on the drug just in case they catch COVID-19:

“If they would only wait, there will be enough for everybody. If you would only wait until you truly need it, until you’re diagnosed or you’re an assumptive diagnosis.”

The Lupus Foundation of America says patients who have to suddenly go off of hydroxychloroquine can also go into withdrawal. One study found patients who were going through withdrawal suffered a two-and-a-half times higher risk of getting sick and experienced more flare-ups within 24 weeks.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Briana Harvath
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