NEWARK, NJ — In response to the risk of a shortage of drugs advertised by some as possible cures for the coronavirus, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs placed statewide restrictions on Monday on prescribing and dispensing hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.
The two prescriptions typically used to treat malaria and certain chronic inflammatory conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, have grown in demand nationwide after news that the drugs were being tested for treatments began to circulate. President Donald Trump has championed the drugs as having “tremendous potential," though their effectiveness remain unproven.
According to the attorney general’s office, reports from pharmacy associations have raised concerns that the drugs are being hoarded by people who do not have an immediate need. Doctors and dentists appear to be writing prescriptions for themselves or family members.
As a result, the Division of Consumer Affairs issued an administrative order restricting the prescription and dispensing of the drugs.
“We are in the midst of a public health emergency, and we are all in it together,” Grewal said in a statement. “Stockpiling and hoarding drugs, and inappropriate prescribing for friends and family, is unacceptable. The action we are taking today protects the drug supply so that medications are available when necessary for those who need them most.”
According to the order, any prescription for a drug in short supply due to its possible treatment of COVID-19 must include a diagnosis or diagnostic code and should be supported in the patient’s record. Otherwise, prescriptions are considered invalid and will not be filled by pharmacists.
Prescribers are also not to prescribe medications in short supply, such as prophylaxis against COVID-19 for the prescriber’s family or friends to stockpile. All prescriptions should be for the treatment of conditions appropriate for the prescriber’s scope of practice — for instance, a veterinarian should not be writing prescriptions for medications designed to treat COVID-19.
“Medical professionals have a duty to make conscientious prescribing and dispensing decisions that ensure every patient is able to obtain their medication. This includes only issuing prescriptions necessary for the treatment of patients, and in reasonable quantities to ensure continuity of care for all who rely on them,” Paul Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a statement.
Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine may be prescribed and dispensed for treatment of COVID-19 only if a positive test result is documented on the prescription. The amount is limited to a 14-day supply, with no refills permitted, according to the attorney general’s office.
The order’s limitations do not apply to orders of medications for inpatient hospital use, or for use in federal or state clinical trials. It will not apply to patients being treated with maintenance prescriptions for conditions like lupus or other autoimmune diseases. These patients are not limited to the same 14-day supply rule.
Pharmacists may exercise judgment when filling or refilling prescriptions for medications that may soon be in short supply due to increased demand of certain drugs or drug delivery systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic.