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Ohio stops hydroxychloroquine ban temporarily; researcher says lack of trials ‘strange’

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The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy paused its ban on the use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 in response to Governor Mike DeWine’s (R) request to remove the ban and more carefully consider the policy which has been buffeted by media hysteria and false claims.  

Previously the pharmacy board came under fire for hoarding hydroxychloroquine.  

“The state purchased more than 2 million hydroxychloroquine pills for $602,629 on April 9, Melanie Amato, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said via email in June. On April 20, Capital Wholesale Drug in Columbus donated 2 million hydroxychloroquine pills — worth about $680,000 — from drug maker Prasco, which is based in Mason, Ohio,” reported USA Today.

The purchase came after the state board accused Ohio doctors of hoarding hydroxychloroquine for their own personal use and the use of family and friends.  

Subsequently, the board limited prescriptions to those who tested positive for COVID-19 or those who were personally approved by the pharmacy board’s executive director.

The ban has been occasioned by renewed controversy over treatment of COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine, with proponents saying that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for the disease and opponents saying that studies show it’s not effective against the newest, novel coronavirus and is dangerous.  

Experts who actually study the drug have said both claims are untrue and that more comprehensive testing needs to be done.

Claims that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective have relied on very small sample sizes of typically less than 100 patients, while claims of it as a cure are more anecdotal. More significant are claims that the drug is dangerous, which experts say is untrue and based on outright fraud by a Chicago-based company, Surgisphere.  

According to physician and tropical diseases researcher Nicholas White, it has become more difficult to recruit participants to the trial due to the way the drug has been framed by the media and others.

Many trials of the drug were scuttled after a report by Surgishphere suggested that hydroxychloroquine was dangerous for the heart. Subsequently, that study was withdrawn by The Lancet after authors would not produce data for the study.

White said the report claiming heart damage was “a real scandal.”

“We shouldn’t have published this,” said Dr. Richard Horton, the editor in chief of The Lancet. “We should have had reviewers who would recognize the problem”

“Dr. Horton called the paper retracted by his journal a ‘fabrication’ and ‘a monumental fraud,’” reported the New York Times.  

White says there is no other evidence of harm from taking hydroxychloroquine. However, many health agencies didn’t resume halted trials, switching their reasoning from the potential harm of the drug to suggest that it doesn’t work, which White says “is strange at best’” in an article by Chemistry World.

An investigation by the U.K.’s Guardian says that Surgisphere’s employees had little-to-no scientific background. 

“An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist whose professional profile suggests writing is her full time job,” according to the Guardian. “Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess, who also acts in videos for organisations.”

Photo Credit: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

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