Lawmakers in Utah have expended $800,000 for the purchase of 20,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump to cure COVID-19. The lawmakers are also planning to set aside $6 million for other medications that may be used to treat coronavirus in the coming months. The problem, however, is that many health officials do not endorse the use of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19.
The state lawmakers are ordering hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine from Meds in Motion, a Utah pharmacy chain owned by Dan Richards who is a friend of Senate President Stuart Adams. The state legislature said they ordered for the controversial coronavirus drugs because of fears that it could run out and could be helpful to COVID-19 patients. They said they will distribute them to drug stores so that persons infected with coronavirus could obtain them for free after certifying their infection status.
Health officials who opposed the expenditure said it is only a waste of state resources since there are little or no solid proofs that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine help coronavirus patients. The FDA already approved the drugs for the treatment of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis but not for COVID-19. In fact, the FDA warned that the use of the drugs for coronavirus comes with significant health risks.
“The FDA is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin,” the FDA wrote. “We are also aware of the increased use of these medicines through outpatient prescriptions. Therefore, we would like to remind health care professionals and patients of the known risks associated with both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.”
It is however on record that the FDA approved the emergency use of the drugs to treat COVID-19 patients in a hospitalized setting under critical care. The CDC no longer endorses the drugs for coronavirus and the NIH cites lack of evidence for warning against their use. But Jeff Burton, acting executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said it is wiser to have the drugs handy than not to have them where they hold promise.
“The most consistent element of COVID-19 has been that things are constantly changing,” Jeff Burton said. “We wanted to put ourselves in a position that if there were to be a shortage in the supply chain of hydroxychloroquine, we were well-positioned to be able to provide medication to Utah residents who need it. The good news is, the supply chain has recently shown signs of stabilization.”
Meanwhile, Utah legislature is also planning to reserve $6 million in federal funding for future drugs that would help against coronavirus in the state. Rep. Brad Last, House chairman on budget committee stated that “these funds are going to be set aside for potential treatments, and we might not even know what they are at this time.”
But Chase Thomas, executive director for Alliance for a Better Utah, government accountability and progressive advocacy group, warned that such money should not be spent on unproven drugs when the state is even depending on volunteers to sew face masks for healthcare personnel on the COVID-19 frontlines.
“Public funds should not be used to bail out a private business gamble, nor should public funds be used to purchase an unproven drug against the advice of medical professionals,” Thomas warned.