Last month, The N.C. Board of Pharmacy passed an emergency rule restricting the use of anti-malarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. The rule restricts prescription of the drugs exclusively to those already diagnosed with Coronavirus, and for no longer than fourteen days. The rule does not allow for the prescription of these drugs as preventative measures.

This emergency rule was made given the available information at the time as well as a concern for a shortage of these drugs for patients who needed them to treat illnesses other than COVID-19. However, as new information has come to light, that ruling may need to be altered. JLF’s Jon Sanders writes:

In terms of research, these are early days still. But findings indicate that the anti-malarial “cocktail” of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin can be effective in treating the disease:

  • An early, small trial out of France found significant antiviral effects of hydroxychloroquine treatment reinforced by azithromycin. (Gautretet al., posted March 20)
  • A following small trial out of France did not find strong antiviral effects of hydroxychloroquine reinforced by azithromycin for patients hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19. (Molinaet al., posted March 30)
  • Another study from China, with a slightly larger sample of mildly ill patients and using a control group, found that the hydroxychloroquine group recovered quicker, with milder cases of cough, fever, and pneumonia and less likelihood of severe forms of the illness than the control group not given the drug (Zhaowei Chenet al., posted March 31)

These new findings, in addition to the donation of 600,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, is cause enough to reconsider the board’s decision. Sanders writes:

What all this indicates is that what informed the passage of last week’s emergency rule is no longer the best available information. There are more indications that these treatments are effective and less need to worry about a shortage. Several other states that initially passed limits or prohibitions on hydroxychloroquine have seen the same shifting landscape and subsequently changed their prohibitions.

Recommendation: Allow health care workers and first responders on the front lines to receive preventative prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, azithromycin, etc.

Why: to protect them from the virus along with masks, gloves, and other PPE

Read the full brief here. Learn more research brief on Coronavirus and North Carolina policy recommendations here.