According to CNBC, there is a shortage across the country of a very important medication: hydroxychloroquine. This is somewhat unsurprising. After all, the Trump administration has been vocal about the drug’s potential benefits for patients with COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence. With the public grappling for any potential assistance, many are still willing to try hydroxychloroquine. But where does that leave people with autoimmune diseases and disorders, who require this medication to control their symptoms?
The CDC describes hydroxychloroquine as an arthritis medication that can also be used to treat malaria. Potential side effects include nausea, stomach pain, and headache. However, patients generally tolerate hydroxychloroquine better than other antimalarials. Read more about hydroxychloroquine here.
Additionally, it is an effective treatment for patients with certain autoimmune diseases who have not responded to prior therapies. These conditions include lupus or, in 21-year-old Morgan Gleason’s case, juvenile dermatomyositis.
Morgan has a rare autoimmune disorder called juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM), a subset of dermatomyositis. Patients with juvenile dermatomyositis experience muscle, skin, and blood vessel inflammation. Some doctors believe that it is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking or causing inflammation in muscle cells and blood vessels.
Symptoms of JDM include progressive muscle weakness, a red or violet skin rash, lung problems, fatigue, stomach ulcers, and muscle pain. JDM is incurable. However, patients can get treatments to help improve muscle function and reduce inflammation. Learn more about JDM here.
When Morgan experiences flare-ups of JDM, she experiences heightened muscle weakness. Sometimes she struggles with actions such as brushing her hair or trying to complete homework. But Plaquenil, the brand name for hydroxychloroquine, has helped her reduce or avoid these flare-ups for the last eight years.
Hydroxychloroquine also benefits patients with lupus, reducing an estimated 50% of flare-ups.
Now, Morgan is afraid that she won’t be able to access her treatment. Her pharmacy, like many others across the country, does not have any available. Rheumatologist Dr. Kenneth Kalunian says that many of his patients with lupus or other autoimmune disorders are also struggling to get their hands on their much-needed medication.
What’s the Issue?
With fear around COVID-19 ramping up, many government leaders have been trying to soothe the public. Unfortunately, this occasionally means sharing information that may or may not be true. The Trump Administration has repeatedly stated that hydroxychloroquine could cure COVID-19, with Trump referring to it as a “game changer.” On top of that, some statements have asked patients “what do they have to lose” by trying the drug.
As such, people who have not been diagnosed with either COVID-19 or autoimmune disorders are now trying to purchase as much of the medication as possible. People want to stockpile the drug in case of an emergency.
But what does this mean for patients with autoimmune diseases who don’t have access to their medication?
Dr. Anthony Fauci states that there is no way to show that hydroxychloroquine benefits patients with COVID-19 without further testing. So many doctors and patient groups advocate for not purchasing hydroxychloroquine unless it is needed. Rather, until more staunch research is performed, patients with autoimmune disorders and others who require hydroxychloroquine treatment should be first to receive it.