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KARE 11 Investigates: Phony prescriptions for drug touted as COVID cure

Pharmacists have busted people using fake prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, a drug the president has praised as a treatment for COVID-19.

ST PAUL, Minn — Minnesota pharmacists say the desire to access a drug that President Trump has touted as a treatment for coronavirus is leading to fraud, including fake prescriptions.

“We do not have quality data to say that hydroxychloroquine actually treats COVID-19, but people are trying do anything they can to combat this virus,” said Sarah Derr of the Minnesota Pharmacists Association.

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that has long been used to treat illnesses like malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Katie Sundgren of Coon Rapids says she’s taken the drug for years to keep her lupus symptoms at bay. Without it, she fears she couldn’t care for her family. “My joints flare up. I can’t move I can’t get out of bed,” Sundgren said.

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She filled her prescription before the coronavirus crisis began in Minnesota, so she has pills left. But others in her lupus support groups are not so lucky and have had trouble getting their medicine.

“It’s a huge crisis and they are scared. How do they ration that drug for themselves?” she said.

Nationally there has been a run on hydroxychloroquine sparked by early studies that suggested some effectiveness against coronavirus, even though medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have said that the data isn’t sufficient to prescribe the drug for COVID-19.

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Derr says her members have busted people coming in with forged prescriptions for it.

“Hydroxychloroquine is being written as a fake script and saying that the doctor is prescribing it when he did not,” she said. That's usually the type of thing they see associated with fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances like opioids.

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She says while the problem is not as large in Minnesota as in other states, her members have also seen doctors prescribing the drug preventatively to themselves or their families.

“We’ve had a couple of physicians reported to the Board of Medicine because they’ve been writing inappropriate prescriptions,” she said.

It’s behavior that is upsetting to Katie. She says for many people access to hydroxychloroquine is a matter of life and death.

“It makes me angry,” she said. “I want people to understand that it’s not something we can go without.”

Right now, Derr says Minnesota pharmacies have the medication, but the national supply problems are impacting pharmacies ability to replenish their supply.

Derr says that’s why pharmacists are using their judgement to determine who has a legitimate diagnosis, something an executive order signed by Governor Tim Walz has given them the authority to do.

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