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Utah Legislature Votes To Spend $6 Million More On Unproven COVID-19 Treatments

Photo of the Utah state capitol building.
Brian Albers
The Utah Legislature has approved appropriating more than $1 billion in federal money toward the state's coronavirus response, including a controversial move to set aside $6 million in federal funding to stockpile drugs to treat COVID-19.

The Utah Legislature voted to appropriate more than $1 billion in federal money Thursday toward the state’s coronavirus response. 

It included a controversial move to set aside $6 million in federal funding to stockpile drugs to treat COVID-19. Lawmakers had already approved $2 million of federal money for the drugs, bringing the total to $8 million.

There are currently no drugs approved to treat COVID-19, although President Donald Trump and some state leaders have suggested using the anti-malaria and lupus drug hydroxychloroquine, which has potentially dangerous side effects. The stockpile is intended to ensure enough supply so doctors can prescribe it for approved uses as well as for the treatment of COVID-19.

The appropriation doesn’t specify which drug the money would go toward purchasing. 

Family physician Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to stop the state from stockpiling drugs for a purpose not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

“Until we have evidence that a treatment is helpful, we should not, using taxpayer dollars, short circuit our regular private market process for getting medication to patients,” Ward said. 

However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, argued that if the state waits to buy the drugs, it may be too late. 

“Given the attention to this particular drug throughout the country and the fact that there could be a run on it, and it may not be available, we want to have it available for citizens in the state of Utah,” Last said. “If it so happens that we start to see promising results from the tests that are being done that this drug could be helpful, my guess is that we’re not going to be able to get it.” 

The state already purchased 20,000 “medication packs” of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in combination with zinc from local compounding pharmacy Meds in Motion in late March, according to records obtained by KUER. State leaders are in negotiations to buy enough hydroxychloroquine to treat 200,000 patients, which would cost $8 million if purchased at the same price as its initial buy. 

KUER’s Andrew Becker contributed to this report.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Andrew Becker is Director of special projects for KUER News. Follow him on Twitter @ABeckerKUER

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