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The Plaquenil Drug: how can we revert the drug shortage crisis?


In light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, I wanted to address the Plaquenil drug shortage. I will discuss the current problem and what we can do.

Framing Question: How can we ensure that Plaquenil and all other medications are given to the people who need it the most?

Background Information:

Hydroxychloroquine, often referenced by its brand name “Plaquenil”, is a drug that is used to treat malaria and autoimmune disorders like Lupus. For Lupus patients, Plaquenil can help alleviate symptoms associated with periodic flares. Although it isn’t fully understood, Plaquenil is believed to assist in the regulation of the immune system. 

The Current Problem: 

In the coronavirus press briefing on March 19, President Donald Trump first suggested to the public that plaquenil could have some success in treating the virus. He describes the “very, very encouraging early results” seen by the preliminary tests and the FDA. However, Trump’s later comments suggest much more than this. He said, “there are signs that it works on this, some very strong signs”. This is a dangerous exaggeration because of the very limited research data and potential side effects. But immediately, the internet exploded with searches:

Figure 1: Internet Searches

There is a clear correlation between Trump’s briefing and internet searches regarding the drug. By March 22, hoarding of the drug was already being reported. A pharmacist from Eugene, Oregon reported: 

“I have patients with lupus that have been on [plaquenil] for years and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”

Articles from the Washington post, New York Times, and New York Post all confirm similar stories. However, these sources blame doctors as being the ones responsible for the drug shortage; there were many reports of doctors prescribing large amounts of plaquenil to their families and close friends. Now, all over New York, there are shortages of Plaquenil.

Interview: I was curious to hear how this was being perceived from a pharmacist in my local area, so I interviewed a pharmacist that works in New York. I emailed asking, “How many prescriptions would you normally fill for this medication per month? And did this change after Trump’s Plaquenil statement?” They would like to remain anonymous but said I could publish their response:

We normally have 3 patients on this medication [Plaquenil] every month. After the trump statement we got at least 50 or 60 calls from doctors and patients in a period of just 3 days. Doctors were calling [prescriptions] for patients that have never been at our pharmacy or they were calling [prescriptions] for themselves and their relatives. The quantities were for 60 tabs (up to 120 tabs sometimes) for a 1 month supply.

It was fascinating to hear how many new requests the pharmacy received in such a short period of time.

Why This Is Important:

The plaquenil drug shortage has become a serious issue of social injustice.

  1. It is unethical for people to hoard Plaquenil because people with Lupus cannot receive the medication that they need. Not only is the drug not proven to cure coronavirus but Plaquenil is primarily for people suffering from Lupus. Some of these people need Plaquenil to control their symptoms
  2. It is unethical for doctors to prescribe plaquenil to their friends and family. Plaquenil and all other medications need to be prescribed to people who need it for proven medical purposes such as the treatment of Lupus. People who happen to have connections to a physician, should not be given special opportunity to obtain these drugs

A Research Study: I conducted an online study through SurveyMonkey to identify if people would change how they viewed the Plaquenil drug, simply by revealing additional information. 110 people took part in the survey. The results were very interesting, so watch the video below.

Link to view data in video. There is one additional graph. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lkRpRMfCT2YySgGTxeDr358QZEC0ZuP-Nf47S7JVvVI/edit?usp=sharing

What We Can Do:

The most significant impact we can make on this issue will be to spread awareness. By informing others of the issue at hand, we can persuade people from further stockpiling Plaquenil. From the study that I performed, it is clear that once people are informed of the ethical and social issue at hand, the majority of people changed their perception of Plaquenil. There were an initial 74 people to say “yes” but after revealing all information there were only 22 people. This resounding change makes it clear that informing people will be helpful in reversing the current trends.

Now that you (hopefully) know more about this issue, we need to educate the public rather than merely taking information from the media and other unreliable sources. By spreading this information, more people will be aware of the issue and understand the facts. Together, we can change the way that people think about Plaquenil during a global pandemic. 

In the Comment Section Below, let me know:

  • If this page informed you about an issue you’ve never heard about before
  • If you enjoyed this page
  • Or if you have any remaining questions, comments, or messages for me.

I’ll try to respond to as many as I can. Let’s keep the conversation alive and spread the crucial facts behind Plaquenil. 

Works Cited: https://docs.google.com/document/d/11YPymqg418SKPa9dedin8rH1YrVZcb0EGW9Wl9_I7Kw/edit?usp=sharing

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COMMENTS: 4
  1. April 24, 2020 by Morgan

    Hi Tyler,
    I had no idea what Plaquenil was before I read your page or that it is being hoarded because it is believed to have the potential to treat covid-19 symptoms. You mentioned that there are some side effects of Plaquenil and I was wondering if you know what those are. I really liked your page and I’ll definitely be sharing my new knowledge!

    • April 26, 2020 by Tyler

      Hi Morgan, thanks for your comment! Just recently, numerous reports now state that Plaquenil can cause heart problems and liver abnormalities. But even with these reports, Plaquenil is still being widely used for lack of better alternatives. My general conclusion is that more research needs to be done for more suitable treatments. We need to find a solution to the Covid-19 crisis that doesn’t involve Plaquenil.

    • April 26, 2020 by Tyler

      Hi Morgan, thanks for your comment! Just recently, numerous reports now state that Plaquenil can cause heart problems and liver abnormalities. But even with these reports, Plaquenil is still being widely used for lack of better alternatives. My general conclusion is that more research needs to be done for more suitable treatments. We need to find a solution to the Covid-19 crisis that doesn’t involve Plaquenil.

  2. April 28, 2020 by Kellee O’Brien

    Hi Tyler,

    Your report is very informative. Before reading your paper I knew the basic background information about Plaquenil and the hoarding of the drug. What I learned from your report were the details about the hoarding and the doctors who are prescribing Plaquenil for their families. I found your questions and responses with the graphs very helpful. This is a timely project that is well written with helpful graphs. Thank you.

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