COVID-19 leads to hydroxychloroquine shortage for patients with autoimmune disease

Posted at 6:25 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 22:14:35-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — It's been six years since Elizabeth Wallington Thorne was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

An athlete, who used to run marathons, Wallington Thorne said her symptoms started with widespread pain.

"My joints were really swollen. I was really sore," Wallington Thorne said. "I could barely walk a couple miles because everything just hurt all the time."

That all changed when Wallington Thorne's doctor prescribed her hydroxychloroquine, the same drug that's being used as a trial medicine for people who become ill from COVID-19.

While the medication hasn't been proven effective in treating patients with the virus, it changed Wallington Thorne's life

"I still workout everyday, take care of my kids, teach college students and get around just fine," Wallington Thorne said.

However, the use of the medication has led to a nationwide shortage. Wellington-Thorne's 90-day prescription has been reduced to a one-month supply.

"It's just anxiety-producing to know that there's a shortage," Wallington Thorne said.

The 41 Action News Investigators spoke with pharmacists across the metro who said doctors are contributing to the shortage by calling in prescriptions for themselves and their family members.

The drug, according to early research, is most effective when taken at the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.

The pharmacists told the 41 Action News Investigators they noticed what was happening when doctors would call in a prescription for themselves and also for people with the same last name, some of whom live out of state, one pharmacist said.

Dr. Carrie Mihordin is a rheumatologist. She said, for some of her patients, not taking the drug is not an option due to the severity of their illness.

"That's the worrisome part of all of this," Mihordin said. "Some people have inflammation around the lining of their heart, some people have inflammation around their lungs, muscles, joints, the nervous system."

Dr. Mihordin said a lot of her patients are "well-maintained" as long as they're on their medications.

"Some people that were getting 30-day supplies can now only get 14-day supplies," Mihordin said.

The 41 Action News Investigators spoke to another woman in a similar situation.

Karen Logan has lupus. Logan said she's had to drive from pharmacy to pharmacy to find enough hydroxychloroquine.

In a Facebook post, Logan wrote, "I've been piecing together 30 pills here and there from different pharmacies. The alternate meds would make me even more immunosuppressed and I couldn't continue breast feeding on the alternative meds. We lupus patients are panicked."

While Mihordin said she doesn't know any doctors personally who've called in prescriptions for themselves and their family members for the drug, she said she's aware it's happening.

"It's disheartening," Mihordin said. "I do think that patients who are on these medications chronically, we should be making sure that there's enough medications for them to get refills."

Wallington Thorne said if the drug works for COVID-19 patients, she wants them to have it, but she doesn't want people being prescribed the medication on the chance they could catch the virus.

"The idea that I can't get a medicine that I need to survive because somebody's hoping that it works is pretty distressing," she said.