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 Utah was 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