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Governor's Office Probes Company At Center Of COVID-19 Treatment

Man in a suit stands at a podium with Utah state seal as backdrop.
Steve Griffin
Pool Photo
Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters Friday that his legal team will review the state’s $800,000 purchase of the controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine from a Utah-based compounding pharmacy.";

Gov. Gary Herbert’s legal team is reviewing whether the compounding pharmacy from which the state of Utah purchased a controversial anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19 ever had state and federal approval to mass produce the medication, the governor’s office said Friday. 

That’s one of several lines of questioning into the cost and transparency of the state’s $800,000 deal with Draper-based Meds in Motion to buy enough hydroxychloroquine to treat 20,000 patients, said Paul Edwards,spokesman for the governor’s COVID-19 Community Task Force.

“There seems to be a question around whether a compounding pharmacy has authorization to do bulk sales,” Edwards said, adding that the drug’s price — $40 per treatment – is also being looked at, now that supply chains have normalized. 

The purchase, which the state ordered on March 31 and paid for on April 8, has drawn widespread scrutiny, as has the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19

President Donald Trump has touted the drug, paired with azithromycin, as a possible “game changer.” Infectious disease experts and physicians, meanwhile, have cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine, which several studies have shown to be ineffective against the illness and even harmful. 

Two trials by the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare are currently ongoing in Utah. The FDA on Friday warned against using hydroxychloroquine to treat the illness caused by the coronavirus outside of hospitals and clinical trials, citing heart risks. 

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Herbert said he had his own questions about how the purchase came to be, which he said he was not aware of at the time. But he also defended the state’s actions, saying officials moved quickly to protect the public at a time when supplies were becoming scarce. 

Utah has not, however, taken possession of the medication. State officials also announced Friday that they will not move forward with plans to purchase another 200,000 treatments from Meds in Motion. On Thursday, state lawmakers had approved spending $6 million to stockpile drugs to treat COVID-19, on top of $2 million already appropriated.

Meds In Motion CEO Dan Richards could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which issues business licenses in Utah, declined to comment, citing the state’s pending legal review. The Food and Drug Administration did not immediately respond to questions.

State records show that Meds in Motion is designated as a Class A pharmacy, which according to Utah law, allows the company to compound or dispense a drug at a retail level to those with a prescription. Pharmacies designated as Class C are authorized to manufacture, produce, wholesale or distribute drugs in Utah.

Officials are not suspicious of “any self-dealing going on on behalf of state officials, but there are some genuine questions out there,” Edwards said. “The first questions for us internally are about who was involved and what was the reasoning.”

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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