A woman leaves a Walgreens pharmacy that is enforcing social distancing rules by allowing only certain numbers of people as customers line up on the sidewalk outside the store, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in New York. Maintaining a distance of six feet from others is recommended during the current coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania on Thursday told pharmacists they should begin checking that patients have tested positive for coronavirus before filling prescriptions for drugs touted by President Donald Trump as possible treatments for the virus.

Trump has repeatedly pointed to the use of the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential treatments for coronavirus, saying their use could be a “game-changer” in the fight against coronavirus.

Demand fueled by Trump’s comments have prompted concerns across the country about shortages of the drugs for people with conditions like Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, which oversees the medical boards, said the state’s move was spurred by concerns that demand for the drugs for potential use in treating coronavirus would lead to shortages of the drugs in Pennsylvania.

“We were hearing concerns about protecting the drugs for people who have an already established medical need,”she said.

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, reported earlier this week that pharmacists and state regulators were concerned that a nationwide shortage of the two drugs was being driven, in part, by doctors inappropriately prescribing the medicines for family, friends and themselves, according to pharmacists and state regulators.

Patrica Epple, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Pharmacist Association said she’s heard reports of apparent hoarding by doctors in this state and her group had been calling on the state to issue stronger guidance to thwart it.

“It’s a good step,” Epple said.

The new guidance in Pennsylvania is similar to actions taken in other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, showed encouraging signs in small, early tests against the coronavirus. Scientists, however, warn about raising false hopes and say major studies are needed to prove the drugs are safe and effective against coronavirus, and to show that people would not have recovered just as well on their own. One such study starts Tuesday in New York.

“Right now, there is no drug that looks like it’s proven so overwhelming in early-stage clinical trials that we can say it’s highly promising,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

In the new guidance, the Pennsylvania medical board recommends that doctors should indicate the medical condition prompting the prescription and if the prescription is for coronavirus, the doctor should document whether the patient has already tested positive for coronavirus.

The state pharmacy board issued similar guidance, recommending that pharmacists verify that the patient has tested positive for coronavirus before filling the prescription. Patients with Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, who have already been getting the drugs prescribed, wouldn’t need to provide any documentation to continue getting the drugs, under the new state guidance.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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