Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

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

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.