Quebec pharmacists to begin refilling hydroxychloroquine prescriptions again on Friday

Hydroxychloroquine pills are shown in this file image. AP Photo/John Locher

People who regularly use hydroxychloroquine in Quebec will be able to have the drug prescribed once again beginning Friday.

Thousands of Quebec patients were being denied treatment of hydroxychloroquine due to fears of a potential shortage after it was touted as a miracle treatment for COVID-19, in spite of scientists saying more testing is needed.

The drug is regularly used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, an autoimmune disease.

It’s an important enough medication for these conditions to appear on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medicines as a treatment for rheumatoid disorders.

However, Health Canada has not authorized any drugs to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19 and has even released a warning against using the drug without medical supervision.

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“To date, data from clinical trials are limited, and the results have not conclusively shown that any specific medications are effective against COVID-19,” the warning reads.

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The drug showed no benefit in treating COVID-19 in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.

The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far at hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19.

The province’s order of pharmacists says there are no longer fears for a shortage and that it can resume prescriptions again on Friday.

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“We’ve managed stock very carefully, and the manufacturers have been able to give us the assurance that they can provide stock for everybody as well,” Bertrand Bolduc, president of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists, told Global News.

Bolduc said the decision to stop prescribing hydroxychloroquine to non-critical patients was made because the drug stays in people’s bodies for at least a month and it’s safe to stop treatment for a few weeks.

But for emergency room nurse Norma O’Donnell, who suffers from chronic arthritis, missing a dose can be critical.

“Before I was on this [hydroxychloroquine], I couldn’t use my hands. It was the hydroxychloroquine that gave me my movement back. I miss a dose, I’m in terrible pain,” said O’Donnell.

For a week now, O’Donnell says she has been trying to get her hydroxychloroquine prescription renewed by her pharmacist to no avail.

She says she was told she had to find another alternative.

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“I’m thrilled to hear is going to come back and that all pharmacies are on board because a lot of people have already missed their doses,” O’Donnell said.

“They’ve been suffering like crazy.”

O’Donnell said she will be heading to her pharmacy on Friday to get her prescription refilled.

— With files from Hannah Jackson, David Lao, Amanda Pope, Leslie Young, The Associated Press and Anne Leclair 

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