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Utah Is Preparing To Buy Enough Hydroxychloroquine To Treat 200,000 Patients

Photo of a person stocking a shelf at a pharmacy
The state of Utah's impending purchase of hydroxychloroquine comes as infectious disease experts warn against using it and other drugs to treat COVID-19 before clinical trials studying their effectiveness — and potential harm — are complete. ";s:3

The state of Utah is negotiating the purchase of hydroxychloroquine to treat 200,000 coronavirus patients, despite little evidence that the anti-malaria drug works against COVID-19. 

The impending purchase comes as infectious disease experts warn against the use of the hydroxychloroquine and other drugs to treat COVID-19 before clinical trials studying their effectiveness — and potential harm — are complete. To date, research has shown that the drug does not help patients with the disease.

Officials are looking to purchase 200,000 treatment courses, each of which consists of a seven-day regimen, according to Gen. Jeff Burton, who is leading the Utah Department of Health’s COVID-19 response team. Utah will use state and federal moneyto pay for the drugs, though the purchase price is still being negotiated. No additional purchases are being considered.

“They will be available free of charge, provided the individual has a prescription from a licensed physician certifying they have an active case of COVID-19,” Burton said in an email statement to KUER. “We are not using it for prophylaxis at this time.”

As of Monday, Utah has reported 3,213 confirmed cases of the disease with 28 deaths

According to health department officials, an unnamed Utah compound pharmacist purchased the ingredients from China. Dan Richards, the owner of the compound pharmacy Meds in Motion, told the Salt Lake Tribune he has a stockpile of ingredients and has been in talks with the state to produce the drug.

Details of the deal, which has been in the works for weeks, are still under discussion. The purchase also comes as lawmakers passed a bill last week shielding from litigation health care providers who give patients experimental drugs to treat diseases during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice cleared the way for U.S. drug companies to distribute the controversial treatment. President Donald Trump repeatedly has touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential remedy for the coronavirus. 

Utah lawmakers and state officials have also highlighted the drug, but not without controversy and confusion. In March, the state Department of Health requested that the Utah Medical Association, which advocates for the medical profession in the state, forward a recommendation to its members on different dosage amounts involving hydroxychloroquine and other drugs. 

Shortly after, the health department rescinded the suggestion, and asked the advocacy group to do the same.

“The Utah Medical Association doesn’t tell doctors how to practice medicine,” Mark Fotheringham, a spokesperson for the Utah Medical Association, said. “That’s up to each individual physician to make that decision in regards to each individual patient.”

Andrew Becker is executive editor for special projects at KUER. Follow Andrew on Twitter @ABeckerKUER

Andrew Becker joined KUER in 2018 as the host and producer of an upcoming investigative podcast before becoming news director. He spent more than a decade covering border, homeland and national security issues, most recently for The Center for Investigative Reporting + Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse, with stories ranging from corruption and the expanded use of drones along the U.S.-Mexico border to police militarization and the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, terrorism and drug trafficking. His reporting has appeared in news outlets such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and PBS/FRONTLINE, been cited in U.S. Supreme Court and District Court briefs and highlighted by John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight.” His work has been recognized by the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and been nominated for a National Emmy, among others. He has taught at the University of Utah, and won fellowships from John Jay College in New York City and the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He also sits on an advisory board for the National Center on Disability and Journalism, based at Arizona State University. He received a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.
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