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Utah Has Already Spent $800,000 On Controversial Medication Touted By Trump As COVID-19 Treatment

Photo of a hospital pharmacy storeroom.

The state of Utah has bought $800,000 worth of a controversial anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19, according to records obtained by KUER. 

A purchase order from the Utah Division of Purchasing and General Services shows the state bought 20,000 “medication packs” of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in combination with zinc from local compounding pharmacy Meds in Motion.

The signed purchase order dated March 31 shows that the state paid $40 each for the treatments. The Draper-based company’s chief executive Dan Richards said they have stockpiled ingredients purchased from China. 

The state has paid for the drugs, but has not yet taken possession of them, according to the Governor’s office. 

Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Health said Thursday it’s hit pause on a plan to buy enough doses of hydroxychloroquine to treat 200,000 patients as the department sorts through legal requirements imposed by the FDA, a spokesman said. 

Earlier this week Gen. Jeff Burton, the department’s acting executive director, said Utahwas preparing to order 200,000 treatments, but that the cost was still being negotiated.

The health department’s Thursday statement said it “is still researching FDA requirements concerning the compounding and distribution of hydroxychloroquine, and that to date no contract has been signed by the UDOH for the 200,000 treatments.”

“The most consistent element of COVID-19 has been that things are constantly changing,” Burton said in the statement. “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.”

State lawmakers have earmarked $2 million in federal funding for the purchase of a treatment drug stockpile. In a legislative special session Thursday, the House of Representatives passed another appropriations bill which included an additional $6 million for drugs to treat COVID-19. It's awaiting approval by the Senate. Lawmakers voted down an amendment to limit purchases to FDA approved uses of drugs.

Burton said the drugs would be available free of charge as long as a patient has a prescription from a licensed physician who has certified that they have an active case of COVID-19.

Infectious disease experts have challenged the use of hydroxychloroquine, saying that its effectiveness against COVID-19 is unproven. A growing body of evidence shows that hydroxychloroquine may in fact do more harm than good in treating the pandemic disease.

Sonja Hutson contributed to this reporting.

Andrew Becker is Executive Editor of Special Projects for KUER News. Follow him 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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