May 29, 2020 - Health

Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March

Reproduced from Vaduganathan et al., 2020, "Prescription Fill Patterns for Commonly Used Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States"; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Vaduganathan et al., 2020, "Prescription Fill Patterns for Commonly Used Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States"; Chart: Axios Visuals

Prescription fills of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine soared in March, after they were put in the political spotlight by President Trump, according to a new study in JAMA.

Why it matters: The evidence suggests that the drug is not an effective treatment for the coronavirus, and is even dangerous for some patients.

Between the lines: The drug's notoriety exploded in mid-March, when the administration secured millions of donated doses of the drug and President Trump publicly touted it.

  • The administration's actions surrounding chloroquine have since been criticized by Rick Bright, a former senior HHS official who has filed a whistleblower complaint.

By the numbers: During the week of March 15–21, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine fills increased from 2019 levels by 1,977% for short-term prescriptions, by 179% for medium-term prescriptions, and by 182% for long-term prescriptions.

  • By the end of April, prescription fills for less than 60 tablets were still significantly higher than historical amounts. But those for more than 60 tablets had decreased compared to 2019, "which could indicate decreased availability for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis," the authors write.
  • Overall, there were 483,425 excess fills of the drug in the 10 weeks examined by the study, compared with 2019.

Go deeper: Trump says he's taking hydroxychloroquine despite FDA warnings

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