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Doctors Hoarding Coronavirus Meds With Prescriptions for Family and Friends

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An employee at a pharmaceutical company in China’s Jiangsu province checks the production of chloroquine phosphate. (FeatureChina via AP Images)

by Topher Sanders, David Armstrong and Ava Kofman for ProPublica

An employee at a pharmaceutical company in China’s Jiangsu province checks the production of chloroquine phosphate.

A nationwide shortage of two drugs touted as possible treatments for the coronavirus is being driven in part by doctors inappropriately prescribing the medicines for family, friends and themselves, according to pharmacists and state regulators.

“It’s disgraceful, is what it is,” said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which started getting calls and emails Saturday from members saying they were receiving questionable prescriptions. “And completely selfish.”

Demand for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine surged over the past several days as President Donald Trump promoted them as possible treatments for the coronavirus and online forums buzzed with excitement over a small study suggesting the combination of hydroxychloroquine and a commonly used antibiotic could be effective in treating COVID-19.

Reynolds said the Illinois Pharmacists Association has started reaching out to pharmacists and medical groups throughout the state to urge doctors, nurses and physician assistants not to write prescriptions for themselves and those close to them.

“We even had a couple of examples of prescribers trying to say that the individual they were calling in for had rheumatoid arthritis,” he said, explaining that pharmacists suspected that wasn’t true. “I mean, that’s fraud.”

In one case, Reynolds said, the prescriber initially tried to get the pills without an explanation and only offered up that the individual had rheumatoid arthritis after the pharmacist questioned the prescription.

In a bulletin to pharmacists on Sunday, the state association wrote that it was “disturbed by the current actions of prescribers” and instructed members on how to file a complaint against physicians and nurses who were doing it.

“People are losing their minds about this product,” said Brian Brito, president of SMP Pharmacy Solutions in Miami. “We’re selling so much of this stuff and people are just stockpiling it prophylactically if anybody in their family gets sick — they’re just holding on to it.”

The two drugs are only available through a prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter. Hydroxychloroquine, sold under the brand name Plaquenil, is approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis while chloroquine is an anti-malarial treatment.

There is little evidence that the drugs work to treat coronavirus, although clinical trials are underway to find out. But as coronavirus cases multiply and protective gear for medical workers vanishes from emergency rooms, many patients and physicians see the drugs as the only hope to reverse the course of serious disease.

Brito said his pharmacy had about 800 tablets on Monday and were nearly sold out in about an hour. One doctor called and asked for 200 tablets, but the company refused. “He was a little upset about it but he understood and he went quickly from 200 to 42 tablets, which is essentially treating two people,” Brito said. “So yeah, they’re stockpiling it.”

A pharmacist in Houston, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation and violating patient privacy, said he was recently asked by a surgeon for an unusually large quantity with unlimited refills. “He said it was because his wife had lupus,” the pharmacist said, “but when I asked him for her name and diagnosis, he told me just to put it in his.”

Lupus patients are reporting difficulty in refilling their prescriptions for the drug. On Monday, the Lupus Foundation of America issued a joint statement asking the White House Coronavirus Task Force to “take action to ensure current supplies are allocated for patients taking them for indicated uses.”

Several states in the past few days have already moved to limit prescriptions of the drugs, neither of which is approved to treat the coronavirus. Trump, in press conferences and tweets over the past week, has promoted the use of the drugs as potentially blunting the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trump’s unproven claim that hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat COVID-19 has led to hoarding, putting Lupus patients and others at even greater risk. As of Saturday afternoon, Anna Valdez had 27 pills left. That number is now down to 25.

“It’s unfortunate that a news conference, I think prematurely, made it sound like this was the answer, and that’s led to this panic,” Michelle Petri, director of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Lupus Center, said Friday. “I have spent the last two days trying to help lupus patients who actually need their refills.” She said some patients have refills on back order while others are being provided smaller amounts than usual.

The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, in an alert Saturday, ordered pharmacists to limit new prescriptions to no more than 30 tablets and only to cases where the drugs were being used for approved indications.

“Currently, both nationally and in West Virginia, some prescribers have begun writing prescriptions for these drugs for family, friends, and coworkers in anticipation of Covid-19 related illness,” the board wrote.

Texas and Ohio have also restricted prescribing of the drugs. Louisiana on Sunday also issued an emergency rule limiting when the drugs can be prescribed, citing “inappropriate use” and “hoarding.” On Monday, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy said it was rescinding that order because manufacturers had boosted distribution of the drugs.

Experts are warning that any use of the drugs outside of a hospital setting can be dangerous, and admonished doctors to stop prescribing the medicines inappropriately.

Daniel Brooks, the medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix, said it was “immoral” for physicians to hoard the medications.

“One should not be selfish and scared, especially medical providers,” he said. “I find it incredibly embarrassing and unfortunate that physicians appear to be prescribing these medications inappropriately.”

This weekend Brooks cared for a man in his 60s who died after ingesting a version of chloroquine commonly used to clean fish tanks. The man, who thought he might have COVID-19, took a small amount of the substance in a misguided effort to treat his symptoms. His wife was also hospitalized after taking the substance but survived.

Brooks said the amount the couple ingested was equivalent to a couple days’ worth of prescription chloroquine.

Ken Thai, the owner of a chain of Los Angeles-area pharmacies, said his stores are witnessing a rash of inappropriate prescribing.

“A lot of physicians, unfortunately, are writing high amounts for more than the required number of tablets and calling in five, six, seven and eight prescriptions at a time,” he said. “I don’t want to insinuate what is going on, but it is very unusual.”

He said his pharmacists are declining to fill suspicious orders and telling prescribers they don’t have enough of the medication on hand to complete those requests. Among the prescriptions flagged are those for people who have not previously taken the drug as well as orders from doctors who do not typically treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients.

“If a doctor is writing a prescription for himself or aunts and uncles, that is usually a red flag for us,” he said. “Whatever we have in stock, we have to preserve for the patients we currently service.”

On Twitter, pharmacy workers traded stories about dentists and opthamologists requesting hydroxychloroquine under dubious pretenses. “A dentist just tried to call in scripts for hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin for himself, his wife, & another couple (friends),” tweeted a pharmacist in Eugene, Oregon. “I have patients with lupus that have been on HCQ [Hydroxychloroquine] for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”

Steve Moore, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, said medical providers hoarding the drugs is occuring in the state, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“That’s a double whammy,” he said. “We’re potentially taking that medication away from patients with autoimmune conditions and patients with the actual virus that may need treatment.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power

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Health

County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family

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LOS ANGELES – 300 iPads have been donated to Los Angeles County hospitals to facilitate patient-family communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift is through a partnership with the Annenberg Foundation, Brilliant Corners, and the Los Angeles County Center for Strategic Partnerships.

“The engagement of loved ones during hospitalization has been shown to improve clinical outcomes,” said DHS Director, Dr. Christina Ghaly. “Clinical staff identified a role for virtual visiting through technology in order to facilitate this family involvement. The generous donations by the Annenberg Foundation and MobileDemand will help support this critical element of our patients’ care.” 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patient visitation by family and loved ones is limited at facilities in order to prevent exposure and the spread of disease. While there are some exceptions, such as the birth of a child or death of a patient, visitation is not permitted for the vast majority of patients and not allowed at all for COVID-19 patients. 

The donation provides 300 iPads to ensure patients and their families are able to connect, despite restrictions in access to the hospital. A second donation, by MobileDemand, provides rugged, protective healthcare iPad cases to protect against damage and loss. The rugged case also has an adjustable easel attached, providing effortless viewing for patients who are too weak to hold a tablet. Additionally, it frees health care staff from having to hold the device for patients.

“This is a wonderful example of how philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, government, and businesses can collaborate and meet an immediate need in our community,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “Being able to offer an opportunity for comfort and connection to those suffering and to alleviate some of the stress from our frontline caregivers is of utmost importance.”

While social distancing has been successful in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, it is anticipated that it will continue for several months. With this gift, physicians and nurses will be able to place an iPad in the room of COVID and other critically-ill patients for the duration of the admission and reduce potential exposure and use of personal protective equipment going in and out of the room. Having a stationary iPad helps relieve medical staff who would otherwise have to hold the phone for a patient or search for the person’s personal phone. It also will allow patients who do not have a personal mobile device to communicate and “visit” with their family.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) is the second largest municipal health system in the nation. Through its integrated system of 26 health centers and four hospitals – LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center – and expanded network of community partner clinics, DHS annually provides direct care for 600,000 unique patients, employs over 22,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

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Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is putting a strain on essential workers such as first responders and healthcare workers who are on the frontlines in the effort to care for coronavirus patients so the City of West Hollywood is setting out to recognize them in a special way on May 6.

National Nurses Day is a day of recognition to celebrate and honor the contributions that nurses have made and continue to make in our communities and throughout the nation. National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6, which marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, a week-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of nursing and educate the public on the role nurses play in meeting the healthcare needs of Americans. National Nurses Week concludes on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, or as she was more commonly known, “The Lady of the Lamp” and founder of modern nursing.

The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating two motorcades to honor healthcare workers on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, which is nationally recognized as National Nurses Day. The processions will begin at 9:45 a.m. and at 7:15 p.m. on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega Boulevard and the motorcades will head west and then travel southbound on N. San Vicente Boulevard passing multiple medical center locations in West Hollywood en route to a destination outside the emergency room entrance of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Gracie Allen Drive. First responders will briefly stop, exit their vehicles and applaud healthcare workers while wearing face coverings and practicing appropriate social distancing.

“Our nurses and healthcare workers are nothing short of heroes,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey P. Horvath. “The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us just how critical their work is to our everyday health and safety. This National Nurses Day means so much more to all of us — the City of West Hollywood and our LA County Sheriff’s West Hollywood Station and LA County Fire Stations; the City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Police and Fire; the City of Los Angeles and LAPD and LAFD; the California Highway Patrol, and more — and we will honor these heroes in a special way for the care that they provide, which often goes unseen and unrecognized, in carrying us through this crisis.”

“As the worldwide response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, the critical importance of nurses in our society has been brought sharply into focus,” said City of West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman. “More often than not, when a coronavirus patient ends up in a hospital, it is the nurses at the frontlines who are responsible for their care and treatment, putting themselves at risk in the process. We can’t say ‘thank you’ strongly enough.”

The City of West Hollywood encourages residents and community members to participate during this day of celebration while still adhering to LA County Safer At Home Orders and social distancing requirements. Suggested forms of participation include amplifying posts on social media channels, making yard or window signs and banners, participating in a coordinated daily applause or shout out for nurses and healthcare workers, and donating to organizations that are addressing the emerging needs of nurses and healthcare workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) health pandemic.

According to the American Nursing Association, nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than four million registered nurses in the United States. Registered nurses comprise one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce and are the primary providers of hospital patient care, delivering most of the nation’s long-term care. In nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85 percent of the workforce. This year, with the onset of coronavirus, nurses have stepped up and shown the incredible impact they have on our healthcare system. It is more important than ever that we recognize National Nurses Day and celebrate the significance of nurses every day.

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Health

Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

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Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

(TMZ) — It’s becoming more clear by the day that wet markets are NOT just a China problem — it’s an American problem too … just take a look at these latest clips from Texas and California.

TMZ has gotten a hold of even more graphic videos of two different live animal shops in TX and CA — where people pick out the animal, have it slaughtered on the spot and then sold to them right then and there — and you see the mixed-in livestock runs the gamut.

There are pigs in pens, goats and sheep hoarded together … and, of course, as we’ve seen in New York and elsewhere — chicken and rabbits cooped up in cages — all in the same area within earshot of each other, and all getting butchered.

Ya got pigs hanging from hooks out in the open, chicken beaks, feathers and guts all over the floor and in an exposed trash can — this while customers (including kids) come in and browse the freezer for whatever cuts of meat they want. It’s downright dirty and gross.

As we’ve been told by the experts, these one-stop-shop slaughterhouses/storefronts can be breeding grounds for disease — including new viruses, like COVID-19, which supposedly got started at a wet market in China.

We already know of lawmakers in Cali and New York working to get these things shut down, but it’s pretty apparent there needs to be federal legislation rolled out to address this. Can’t call the kettle black when we’re swimming in the freakin’ pot.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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