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To use, or not to use hydroxychloroquine

State and local governments across the United States have obtained about 30 million doses of a malaria drug touted by President Trump. The drug is intended to treat patients with the coronavirus, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed.

At least 22 states including Oklahoma secured shipments of the drug, hydroxychloroquine. Oklahoma spent $2 million to buy the drugs. Other have spent hundreds of thousands on purchases. The rest of the cities and states received free shipments from drug companies or the U.S. government.

Supporters say having a supply on hand makes sense in case the drug is shown to be effective against the pandemic. Coronaviris has devastated the global economy and killed nearly 200,000 people worldwide.

But health experts worry that having the drug easily available at a time of heightened public fear could make it easier to misuse it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the drug, hydroxychloroquine off label. They also suggest against using it for treating the coronavirus outside of hospitals or research settings. The drug has had reports of serious side effects, including dangerous irregular heart rhythms and death among patients.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent out 14.4 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to 14 cities from the federal government’s national stockpile. The U.S. government received a donation of 30 million doses from Swiss drugmaker Novartis on March 29 to build up the stockpile, which does not normally stock the drug.

Many states, however, have opted to steer clear of the drug. They have concerns about side effects and lingering questions about the drug’s effectiveness. Kansas health director Dr. Lee Norman said the state has no plans to buy the drug because evidence is lacking that it helps treat COVID-19.

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