COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Hundreds of Ohioans reacted swiftly and angrily to news last month that the Ohio pharmacy board blocked the use of a malaria drug for patients with COVID-19, according to a review of comments received by the board.
At issue was the prescribing of the drug hydroxychloroquine for the coronavirus, despite scientific studies showing the drug can do more harm than good when used to treat symptoms of COVID-19.
On July 29, the pharmacy board banned prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine's use as a coronavirus treatment, noting that the FDA previously revoked the emergency use of the drug.
Citing reports of heart complications, the FDA said the drugs’ unproven benefits “do not outweigh the known and potential risks.”
A day later, the pharmacy board reversed itself based on reaction from the public and the medical community, and after Gov. Mike DeWine questioned the decision.
In-between, the board was flooded with furious messages, receiving more than 1,400 emails and more than 400 voicemails in about a day, according to a review of the reactions by The Associated Press.
“How many lives may you save? How many lives will you lose by not allowing physicians to try?” Valerie Lydic, a school nurse from Perry, Ohio, wrote on July 29.
Many people criticized the board for interfering with the doctor-patient relationship. Others accused the board of playing politics, accepting money from drug companies hoping to push their own medications, or trying to make President Donald Trump — who has advocated use of the drug for COVID-19 — look bad. The AP obtained the messages through an open records request.
Pharmacists and doctors were among those urging the board to reverse its decision, including Columbus physician Dr. Michael Yaffe.
“The thought that a pharmacist or pharmacy board can supersede a physician’s order or medication prescription, is frightening to me,” Yaffe wrote on July 30. “I completed medical school, internship and residency to earn the privilege and the right to make clinical decisions regarding patient care.”
Paul Madachik, a retired industrial chemist in Hinkley, told the board its job was “to protect us from defective or substandard drugs, not to limit my physician’s treatment possibilities.”
Health care providers generally can prescribe drugs for unapproved uses if they deem it medically appropriate.
One email questioned why the board would ban the drug after the state spent $600,000 to stockpile supplies early on. The Department of Health purchased 2 million doses in April to ensure enough supplies for people who use the drug for arthritis and other ailments, and to ensure an adequate supply if it was deemed effective for the coronavirus, according to the agency.
When issuing the original rule, the pharmacy board noted that the FDA revoked the emergency use of hydroxychloroquine “based on recent results from a large, randomized clinical trial in hospitalized patients that found these medicines showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.”
But then on July 30, FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn said on NBC's “Today” show that the drug's use should be between doctor and patient. The same day, DeWine said he agreed with that assessment and asked the board to reverse itself.
The pharmacy board is now reassessing its decision and whether any new rule is needed, especially with concerns having passed about a shortage of the drug, said spokesman Cameron McNamee.
He acknowledged that “people were maybe a little perturbed that we came between them and their doctor.”