Pharmacies throughout the Commonwealth say they are having a tough time coming across the drug chloroquine, which is commonly used to fight malaria. It was recently mentioned by President Donald Trump as a potential “game changer” to treat the novel coronavirus, despite only anecdotal evidence backing that claim up.
After Trump’s comments, the Wall Street Journal reported that prices for the medication skyrocketed, prompting “panicked warnings” from local officials. And an Arizona man died after hearing the presidents advice and ingesting a formulation of the drug, known as chloroquine phosphate, that is used for cleaning.
We reached out to dozens of pharmacies in Virginia to see what kind of supply they had and what they had encountered trying to get more. The results were mixed. Many places said they couldn’t get more of the drug once the president mentioned it as a possible treatment, but others said they are just fine, for now.
Pharmacies that have run into challenges getting chloroquine:
“That’s the one that as soon someone on the news made that announcement we looked at our wholesaler and it had just been cleaned out, so we don’t have a date for when it will be available.” — Giant grocery store pharmacy in Arlington
“We’ve found that the medicine is getting hard to find to fill for prescriptions.” — Pharmacy in Springfield
“We haven’t been able to get those drugs for about a year or more well before any of this [coronavirus] stuff came up.” — Denbigh Pharmacy in Newport News
“I buy from multiple vendors and the biggest one has zero on hand. We were sent an email on current drug shortages from a company we don’t even buy from and both drugs are listed on there as shortages. We have been facing drug shortages for many years now there have been a number of supply chain disruptions to get chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. And these are not innocuous drugs, these are heavy duty drugs with serious side effects.” — Hidenwood Pharmacy in Newport News
“Our wholesalers are currently out of both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Chloroquine is used to treat malaria. Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. We usually don’t keep chloroquine in stock because we’re not an area that has a huge problem with malaria.” — McGuire Park Pharmacy in Richmond
“(Both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine) are currently backordered. I believe they’re rationing Z-packs as well. It’s currently on back order. …We have a couple patients who regularly use it. It’s not particularly popular. …It’s all a matter of the wholesalers. We’re more than happy to fill people’s prescriptions for those who need it. But it all depends on how the wholesalers are choosing to distribute it.” — LaFayette Pharmacy in Richmond
Pharmacies that say they aren’t looking yet or haven’t had a problem (yet):
“We have had no problem getting or filling prescriptions for chloroquine.” — Care Connect Pharmacy in McLean
“No, at the same time we don’t have too many malaria cases here. We bought 7 kilos of the drug earlier this month because it’s going to be sold out everywhere. It’s not here yet but should be available the first week of April.” — Preston’s Pharmacy in Arlington
“We usually don’t have any orders for it at all like right now we haven’t had to order it because usually we order it when people start traveling, like in early June. So we haven’t had anyone ask for it specifically to treat coronavirus yet.” — Prosperity Pharmacy in Fairfax/Manassas
“It’s adequate. I would say it’s an adequate supply. Under normal circumstances, it’s usually adequate as well. …I have heard that Teva Manufacturer is donating hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. The logistics are not confirmed yet. They’re probably going to allocate it to pharmacies. It was supposed to start this week but we haven’t heard anything just yet. We’re currently looking to our wholesaler for more guidance.” — Westwood Pharmacy in Richmond
— Ariana Coghill contributed reporting