HARRISBURG — The trade group representing pharmacists in Pennsylvania is calling on the state to crack down on prescribing guidelines for drugs believed to help treat coronavirus, in part, over concerns that doctors are over-prescribing them to hoard the drugs for themselves.

Patricia Epple, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, said "we started hearing about this last week” after President Donald Trump began touting the potential benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in treating coronavirus.

Epple said she was told by a pharmacist that a doctor had tried to get 14 prescriptions of the drugs in order to have them for family.

Pharmacists have the discretion to refuse to fill prescriptions, but Epple said it would be helpful if the state provided tighter guidelines limiting prescriptions of the drugs.

She pointed to the move by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which on Sunday barred doctors from prescribing chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus unless the patient has already tested positive for coronavirus.

Similar restrictions have been enacted in Idaho, Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, according to the New York Times and ProPublica.

ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, reported Tuesday that pharmacists and state regulators were concerned that a nationwide shortage of the two drugs was being driven, in part, by doctors inappropriately prescribing the medicines for family, friends and themselves, according to pharmacists and state regulators.

Epple said her group has repeatedly asked the Pennsylvania Department of State to act on the issue.

A Department of State spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond when questioned about the issue on Wednesday.

Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the Department of Health, said any regulation of the prescribing of the drugs would be handled by the Department of State.

The state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, created to combat the misuse of opioids, doesn't track the prescription practices for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, he said.

The drugs — chloroquine and hydroxchloroquine — have been widely described as anti-malarial drugs, but they are still used for the treatment of medical conditions including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

A spokeswoman for the Western Pennsylvania office of the Arthritis Foundation provided a copy of a letter to Vice President Mike Pence sent by that organization — along with the Lupus Foundation, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Rheumatology — complaining that Trump’s comments have contributed to shortages of the drugs.

“Already today, many of our patients are not able to fill their prescriptions, due to major shortages of hydroxychloroquine, with validated reports across the country of pharmacies having depleted their supplies and half of the drugs’ manufacturers reporting backorders,” the groups wrote in the letter.

They asked that the federal government take steps to better monitor shortages of the drugs and boost production of the drugs.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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