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‘Lifesaving’ lupus drug in short supply after Trump touts possible coronavirus treatment

The publicity surrounding hydroxychloroquine has fueled shortages across the country, NBC News found.

For nearly 30 years, Bonnie Lieberman has relied on a drug called Plaquenil to prevent a flare-up of symptoms associated with lupus: rashes, debilitating fatigue, “swollen, hot, painful joints.”

“This drug is lifesaving for me because it helps me function,” she said

But when Lieberman, a preschool teacher from California, called her pharmacy Friday to check whether her new prescription was available, she got a startling reply.

“I physically don’t have any medication,” Lieberman, 46, said she was told. “It’s back-ordered everywhere.

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Lieberman didn’t have to be told why. She knew that President Donald Trump had touted the drug, known by its generic name, hydroxychloroquine, as a possible treatment for the coronavirus the day before, increasing attention on a medication that experts say was already in short supply due to surging demand.

Clinical tests are only just beginning, and infectious disease experts say it’s too soon to reach a conclusion. Still, the publicity surrounding hydroxychloroquine, which began well before Trump’s remarks, has fueled shortages across the country, NBC News found.

“We were starting to see some reports of supply problems earlier as hospitals started purchasing to have on hand for possible inpatient treatment / clinical trials, however Thursday’s announcement and continuing remarks are driving people to start hoarding this product,” said Erin Fox, senior director of drug information at University of Utah Health, whose research on medication shortages is used by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The run on hydroxychloroquine has left people like Lieberman scrambling to get their hands on the drug.

“To affect lupus patients this way is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Lieberman, a mother of two from Sunnyvale.

“I hope they find something that helps people,” she added, “but it’s more that it’s an unfounded thing at this point.”

Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication, has long been used by people who suffer from lupus. The autoimmune disease afflicts about 1.5 million Americans, predominantly women and African Americans.

Trump, after first highlighting the promise of hydroxychloroquine in treating the coronavirus Thursday, followed up with a series of tweets.

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