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Home > News > Washoe DA to file brief opposing pharmacy board ban on COVID-19 drugs outside hospital setting

Washoe DA to file brief opposing pharmacy board ban on COVID-19 drugs outside hospital setting

By Carla O'Day

Feature Image: Trevor Bexon

The Washoe County District Attorney was directed Tuesday by county commissioners to file a legal brief supporting a challenge to the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy’s ban on certain drugs for COVID-19 patients outside a hospital setting.

The Nevada Osteopathic Medical Association and its president Bruce Fong are challenging the pharmacy board’s emergency regulation in late March that prohibits use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine prescriptions for treating coronavirus patients except in cases of hospitalization.

Washoe County will submit an amicus brief, which is a document by a non-party to a lawsuit that is intended to outline legal arguments for the benefit of the court.

Hydroxychloroquine, also known as Plaquenil, and chloroquine are among several drugs under investigation in clinical trials for pre-exposure or post-exposure of coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These antimalarial drugs have been used for years to treat patients with lupus and other conditions, but recent studies on how effective it is with COVID-19 have yielded mixed results.

Waiting until a patient is hospitalized can be “too little, too late,” and interfering with physician-patient relationships is futile, supporters of the challenge said.

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung

“We feel we have a better understanding of what that patient is supposed to look like,” Fong told commissioners. “We feel we have a better gauge of being able to say, ‘Mr. Jones, we’ve got to get you on some medication. You’re going to get worse and don’t want you going down that slippery slope that’s going to kill you.’”

Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said he supports a physician’s right to make decisions, regardless of which drugs they’re prescribing.

“It’s the physician’s duty to judge risk versus reward when prescribing any treatment for their patients,” Hartung said.

A letter last month from the pharmacy board asked Gov. Steve Sisolak for an emergency declaration that limits the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

“The Nevada State Board of Pharmacy has determined that an emergency exists due to the hoarding and stockpiling of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shortage of supplies of these drugs for legitimate medical purposes,” the letter stated.

Commissioner Kitty Jung cast the lone dissenting vote against a challenge because there were unanswered questions about the supply chain locally for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

“How can you reassure patients in Washoe County who are already on a regime for this drug for lupus, etc. aren’t at risk for losing their supply?” Jung asked.

In public comment, resident Cliff Low suggested commissioners stay away from the issue and not take a position.

“Is this something for the Washoe County Commission to get involved in? Do you really want to open Pandora’s box? This is largely a national controversy,” Low said. “If you seek to take a position on this, then I think you’re opening up Pandora’s box to have people use the county commission as a forum to hear complaints and follow up on lawsuits on a whole variety of topics that have nothing to do with this.”

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