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Is Panic Buying Causing Shortages of Hydroxychloroquine?

Some people are panic buying hydroxychloroquine in the hope it will help COVID-19. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who take it are worried about shortages.
Is Panic Buying Causing Shortages of Hydroxychloroquine?
Close up of a pharmacist hands selling medicines to a customer on a pharmacy desk

The strain of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some peculiar behaviors. Panic buying toilet paper may seem odd but harmless. However, people hoarding face masks and disposable gloves have caused significant and potentially deadly shortages for health care workers. Now, pharmacists are reporting that supplies of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are becoming scarce. It appears that some people are panic buying these anti-malarial drugs.

Pharmacies Putting the Brakes on Panic Buying HCQ:

Ever since people heard in a news conference that hydroxychloroquine might help them recover more quickly from COVID-19, they have been trying to get their hands on it. (Clinical trials are now underway, but none have established its usefulness.) However, this medication and its chemical cousin chloroquine are available by prescription only. There have been reports of some health professionals panic buying and hoarding the drugs for use by their own families and friends.

As a result, pharmacies are putting limits on prescriptions for these medications. They are also watching for unusual prescribing patterns for the antibiotic azithromycin and the inhaler albuterol. Doctors used azithromycin in combination with hydroxychloroquine in a pilot study in France that showed promising results. Consequently, some people may be hoarding azithromycin as well.

What’s Wrong with Panic Buying Medicines?

When people who don’t usually take these drugs buy large quantities, they can trigger shortages. As a result, patients with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are worried that they may not be able to get refills for their hydroxychloroquine. In addition, patients with asthma or COPD may have trouble accessing the rescue inhaler, albuterol. A number of state boards of pharmacy have now issued emergency restrictions to keep these drugs available for those who need them as part of their regular treatment.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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