When Mary Louise Luczkowski called her longtime pharmacist Tuesday to refill her prescriptions for lupus medication, she got a surprising answer.
The small pharmacy in South Lyon, Michigan, couldn't get the pills. Luczkowski has been taking hydroxychloroquine for lupus since , and this is the first time she's struggled to get her medication, she told Business Insider.
Chloroquine and the safer, more widely used variant called hydroxychloroquine have rapidly gone into shortage as demand has spiked, thanks to early reports that the pills may work to treat COVID , the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But that hasn't stopped anecdotal reports of chloroquine working in cases across the world from building up hopes for the drug , which both President Donald Trump and Tesla CEO Elon Musk both amplified.
Chloroquine, which is made by one manufacturer in the US and was approved in the country in , has been in shortage since March 9, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Chloroquine shortage: coronavirus treatment, lupus, arthritis - Business Insider
Hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil, went into shortage on Thursday, according to the pharmacy group, with four of its eight suppliers affected. And while it remains to be seen if these pills will work for COVID, they have been approved by regulators as a safe and effective medication for malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Never miss out on healthcare news. Subscribe to Dispensed , Business Insider's weekly newsletter on pharma, biotech, and healthcare.
Rheumatologists, patients, and medical organizations focused on lupus and arthritis are "very concerned" about the threat of shortages, said Dr. Karen Costenbader, the director of the lupus program at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the chair of the Lupus Foundation of America's medical-scientific advisory council. She said there's a need to increase supplies, and that the federal government should consider subsidizing production.
Drug manufacturers are now working to meet the demand.
Amneal is working to increase production, according to a person familiar with the company's plans. Mylan said it would restart hydroxychloroquine manufacturing at a West Virginia plant. The Indian healthcare company Zydus Cadila said it's increasing production as well.
What are anti-malarial drugs, and why are they used to treat lupus?
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries said it plans to donate more than 10 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to US hospitals within a month. Sandoz, the generics arm of the pharmaceutical company Novartis, said it had a good supply of hydroxychloroquine in the US. On Friday, Novartis committed to donate up to million doses of the drug to support the global response. Fox told Business Insider she made the decision Tuesday to restrict hydroxychloroquine prescriptions after a pharmacist flagged unusual prescriptions at higher dosing levels for people not previously on the medicine.
The health system, which includes four hospitals and 12 retail clinics, is preserving the drugs for patients with chronic diseases like lupus or arthritis who need them. It also wants to have a supply on hand in case the drugs are needed for hospitalized patients.
Comparing Hydroxychloroquine vs Plaquenil
Plaquenil changes the way your immune system works. In some kinds of lupus, your immune system attacks your body instead of protecting it. Plaquenil tries to quiet or slow down the immune system. You take Plaquenil as a pill 1 or 2 times a day.
Take the pills with food or milk. Your body weight will tell your doctor what dose is safe for you.
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If you miss a dose of Plaquenil, do not make it up or double your next dose. Wait until the next scheduled time, and take your usual dose. After several months your doctor will check your joints for swelling and see how you feel. If you still have pain with your daily activities, then you and your doctor should think about trying another medicine. The most common side effects are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, skin rash or black spots when you look at things. Most side effects will go away when your body gets used to the medicine. Tell your doctor if you have these side effects.
A lower dose may stop them. Do not lower the dose on your own. Plaquenil stays in your body for about 3 months. If you must stop it, it will take a while for the side effects to go away. You should have an eye examination every year to prevent a very rare but serious eye problem. Less than one person in 5, develops the problem. Only an eye doctor can see if you have a problem with your retina. Almost always the damage will go away if it is found early and the medicine stopped. You should not take this medicine if you already have problems with the retinas in your eyes. You should not take this if you have an allergy to antimalarial medications.