SALT LAKE CITY — A retired physician's message regarding Hydroxychloroquine and its potential use to combat COVID-19 has taken off on social media, drawing response from Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health.
The account named "DrBill" put out a tweet which says that he tried to prescribe the drug, but a pharmacist said the state had taken over distribution of the drug and that it could not be dispensed for his patient. As of Monday evening, it was retweeted nearly 30,000 times.
I am a licensed physician in Utah. I tried to prescribe hydroxychloroquine but the pharmacist said the state had taken over the distribution of the drug. Even though I’m licensed, I cannot prescribe it. This is WRONG!
— DrBill (@DrBill_MD_) April 5, 2020
The man identified as "Doctor Bill" has over two decades of medical experience and now volunteers as a community doctor by assisting friends, families, neighbors and church members at no charge. He remains active with his board certifications. He asked Fox13 to remain anonymous after his identity and medical background were verified.
In late March, he was working with a patient who he believed was experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
"He was starting to feel ill, had a fever and a cough and also has known lung disease and he is 60 years old," Doctor Bill said to FOX 13. "I put him in kind of a high risk group, so when I checked him out and examined him I thought maybe this is somebody that I could try the hydroxychloroquine on with the azithromycin until we can get lab tests back."
That's when Doctor Bill called his pharmacist and wasn't able to get the prescription. The patient didn't have a positive test result at the time.
According to Doctor Bill, that diagnosis and attempt to get the prescription filled was on March 25.
The very next day, the Utah Department of Commerce's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing released guidelines on the use of Hydrochloroquine and Chloroquine. You can read it in full here.
By the time Doctor Bill put out his tweet, over a week had passed and the regulations had been altered. Therefore, in theory, Doctor Bill would have had better luck prescribing the potential treatment after the guidelines were released. However, the guidelines still required a positive COVID-19 test before filling the prescription, which would still not have been the case in Doctor Bill's circumstance.
“If a provider chooses to treat his or her patient with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, they are ok to do so," said Utah Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn on Monday afternoon. "The state of Utah doesn't interfere with that relationship at all."
The State has not taken over distribution of hydroxychloroquine, though high demand may be creating shortages. You can see @UtahDepOfHealth's recommendations for COVID-19 patients here: https://t.co/il8Mze79pA https://t.co/LX2NKy0REo
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) April 6, 2020
There's also debate whether or not Hydroxychloroquine is an effective drug to be administered to COVID-19 patients.
"Nobody's sure if it works, nobody's sure how it works, but some observational studies said it might be helpful," said Doctor Bill. "Something might help, and it won't necessarily hurt, and people are fully disclosed of the risks that are generally minor, but some that could be more significant. If they're disclosed, if the patient accepts that, I feel fully that they should have access to medication."
Luckily, the outcome from the viral tweet was a misunderstanding and a matter of happenstance from one day to the next.
"I never intended to cause any embarrassment to the State of Utah Department of Health," said Doctor Bill. "I'm not a rabble-rouser, I was just dealing with some frustration and wanted the public to know that we're trying as community physicians to also be involved and help and maybe even take some of the pressure off the emergency rooms."
Utah Department of Health has listed dosage of Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment suggestion for those with COVID-19 who meet the criteria from DOPL.