Lowcountry pharmacies adjust to pandemic

VIDEO: Lowcountry pharmacies adjust to pandemic

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In some states, it’s difficult to find anti-malarial drugs called hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.

Our national InvestigateTV unit found in some cases, doctors might be writing prescriptions for possible COVID-19 treatment at the expense of chronically-ill patients.

Two doctors published a study called "An Effective Treatment for Coronavirus" in mid-march.

It suggested the drug Chloroquine is "an effective antiviral therapy against coronavirus disease."

The study said the drug typically used for the prevention or treatment of malaria - and importantly - can be prescribed for children and adults of all ages.

James Island Pharmacist Dottie Farfone says the drug isn’t only used for malaria. “Patients use that for auto-immune disorders such as lupus,” she explained. It’s also prescribed for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center says during WWII, anti-malarial medications were found to improve muscle and joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the heart and lungs.

It’s been in extremely high demand since the President announced the drug as a possible coronavirus treatment.

“We are telling patients not to worry about a shortage right now because the South Carolina Board of Pharmacy has taken action to limit the prescriptions,” Farfone said. She is the Co-Owner of Dottie’s Pharmacy on Folly Road.

She's referring to this order the South Carolina Pharmacy Board published a week ago.

It says “Physicians should not prescribe hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, or Azithromycin [commonly known as a Z-pak]” without a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and it should be reserved preferably for patients who are actually hospitalized.

The order warns there could be a “tremendous stress placed on the supply chain” if doctors prescribe it as a simply a preventative medicine.

Farfone says Dottie’s Pharmacy could compound - or make - the drug in a shortage emergency, but stock isn’t a problem for them right now.

Her biggest focus is staying open for patients; they created curbside pickup.

“Patients simply text us from the car with their last name and vehicle, and we bring their prescription curbside. We have a pharmacist bringing prescriptions out and two pharmacists inside to fill prescriptions and answer the phone,” Farfone said.

In Moncks Corner, Delta Pharmacy is adjusting to the pandemic, too.

"We've been through hurricanes, but not this prolonged sense of uncertainty," said Erin Pauley, Director of Pharmacy for Delta Pharmacy, which has seven local locations.

Delta Pharmacies implemented drive-thru only and employees are wearing gloves.

Naturally, they spend a good bit of time calming patients' anxieties.

"As a pharmacist, we're really the first line a lot of time for people's questions," Pauley said. "I've actually followed up with three patients to see what their outcome was and let them know we do care about them."

These local pharmacies are essential businesses for thousands of patients who are taking all sorts of critical medications, such as hydroxychloroquine.

“If a shortage [of any medication] should happen, we’d reach out across the country to try to obtain their medication for them,” Farfone said.

Pauley said, “We have no intentions of ever closing our doors.”

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