Autoimmune drug possible COVID-19 treatment, sparking nationwide shortage

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (KVLY) It’s been a worry for many across the country: will the Coronavirus make it more difficult for people to get their hands on the medications they need everyday?

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to help treat lupus, malaria, as well as many autoimmune diseases. It's now being used to help fight Coronavirus, leaving shortages nationwide.

“This medication is necessary for me to just be able to function normally,” Meg Morley of Grand Forks said. Morley was diagnosed with Sjögrens Syndrome last year and has been taking HCQ pills daily for almost a year.

Kristi Wilfahrt of Grand Forks has also been suffering from an autoimmune disease, relying on HCQ to ease her symptoms.

“It’s so vital to un-confusing my immune system and keeping me healthy,” Wilifahrt said.

Now as the drug is being studied to treat those with Coronavirus, many pharmacies are running short on their supply.

“I did call my personal pharmacy and they at that point only had twelve pills on hand,” Morley said.

Wilfahrt says she ran into a similar problem, but luckily was able to fill her three-month supply at another pharmacy. As for if either will be able to re-fill again is unknown.

“I don’t want to go back to that condition I was in,” Morley said.

“The bigger concern I have is if I don’t have it, my immune system is all screwed up. It’s hyperactive,” Wilifahrt said.

For many, there are no alternatives to this prescription.

Both women say on top of their painful symptoms returning, life without HCQ also means their immune systems will become more compromised.

“I need to not get the virus and the only way that I can not get the virus is to stay on this medicine,” Wilifahrt said.

They urge people not to hoard the drug during this pandemic and say if you have extra left behind to see if your local pharmacy will take it back.

Sanford's pharmacy director David Leedahl says they are experiencing a shortage of hydroxychloroquine but say they are able to provide the drug for those with a chronic disease they can validate.

He says so far, the drug appears to have potential to help those with Coronavirus, but add there is still no time frame as to when more HCQ will be available.

“As far as when this will resolve, it’s completely unknown at this point because there are various generic manufactures that are getting into the production. It could be really, really short, or it could be a ways out,” Leedahl said.

Essentia Health Pharmacy Manager, Nicole Rohrbeck says they are also dealing with a shortage,, but says they're working with their patients to get them the medicine they need.

“Wholesalers are limiting supply of the drugs and we have very specific guidelines for filling any prescriptions we receive,” Rohrbeck said.