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People with Lupus Need Scarce Hydroxychloroquine

Excitement about hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 has led to shortages. People with lupus are having trouble getting their medicine.
People with Lupus Need Scarce Hydroxychloroquine
Hydroxychloroquine sulphate tablets, in evaluation for treatment of COVID-19.Denmark, Mars 22, 2020

People with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are worried. Speculation about the possible benefits of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 have led to serious shortages. While the effectiveness of this old malaria drug against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 has not yet been established, lupus patients know it works for their autoimmune disease.

People with Lupus Make Plea–Leave Some Medicine for Us!

Q. I have lupus and have taken hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for almost 20 years to manage the symptoms. I have less than a week’s supply and am scrambling to get my next refill. I’m very worried. Many people hope this medication will work to treat coronavirus and that is causing problems.

I beg those who have neither lupus nor another condition managed by HCQ not to fill prescriptions unless they need them for illness. They are taking life-saving medications out of circulation for those who need them and for whom HCQ is a reliable treatment.

How Helpful Is Hydroxychloroquine?

A. Medical experts have been cautious about the idea that the old malaria drugs chloroquine or HCQ might be used to treat COVID-19. Pilot studies have produced mixed results. Consequently, we will need to wait for the results of studies before we know if and when hydroxychloroquine is useful against the coronavirus.

HCQ for People with Lupus:

For people with lupus, on the other hand, doctors recognize the value of hydroxychloroquine treatment (Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, March 2017). The drug is an effective treatment for this autoimmune condition because it dampens inflammation (Inflammopharmacology, Oct. 2018).

Although it can cause heart rhythm abnormalities, lupus patients who take the drug have less coronary artery disease. These data showed up in an analysis of a million medical records in Taiwan (Journal of Clinical Medicine, June 5, 2019). The researchers compared outcomes for people with lupus on HCQ to those who did not take it. Read more about potential side effects here.

Shortages of HCQ:

Shortages have appeared because of national publicity. That means patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune conditions like lupus are having trouble refilling their prescriptions. Drug companies are ramping up production, but that could take weeks. In the meantime, we hope that patients in need, such as yourself, will get first priority from pharmacists.

If you take hydroxychloroquine for an auto-immune condition, let us know whether you are having trouble filling your prescription. Has your pharmacist been helpful? Use the comment section to tell your story.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Ponticelli C & Moroni G, "Hydroxychloroquine in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)." Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, March 2017. DOI: 10.1080/14740338.2017.1269168
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