As is always the case in a crises, there are those who find an opportunity for personal or political gain. These skirmishes are usually between opposing groups of differing ideologies. In Michigan, the latest battle has Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer squaring off against Trump. This appears to be a fight to the death that will likely have far more collateral damage than anything else.
For the Democrats, the economy is their foil with which to end President Trump’s campaign for a second term. The COVID-19 virus has provided Whitmer with a “raison d’etre” to kill Trump’s economic gains (under the assumption that no president can get re-elected if the economy is tanking). And while many of us see that as an old strategy that cannot work in today’s more politically savvy culture, you would have a hard time convincing Whitmer or any other “blue state” Governor of that fact. She has doubled down on her naive strategy, ensuring that this will be her “Waterloo”.
Case in point is the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), which is responsible for regulating all of the state’s pharmacies. Up until February, pharmacists operated as they always have, dispensing medications, researching issues that come from doctors and hospitals...and doing the things that pharmacists do. That all changed on March 19, 2020. That is when President Trump announced that HydroxyChloroquine would be approved by the FDA for off-label use to treat the virus. But even before Trump’s announcement, the pharmacist community was already experiencing something they had never seen before.
Prior to Trump's announcement, doctors familiar with HydroxyChloroquine were already talking about using it for the Coronavirus outbreak. The drug had been on the market for 60 years with an exemplary track record of safety and efficacy, making it an easy choice..since its formulation already showed great results as an antiviral medication. And that is precisely when LARA stepped in and sent a letter to all pharmacists stating (without analysis) that physicians were writing prescriptions for HCQ to friends and family members. and therefore due to short supply (also unsubstantiated by LARA) HCQ prescriptions must be filled only for malaria, arthritis or lupus to ensure enough supply for existing patients (despite the overwhelming evidence that more COVID-19 patients would die as a result).
Once Trump came out with the statement regarding FDA approval, the gloves came off. According to one pharmacist in the Detroit area who spoke on condition of anonymity (out of fear of losing her job as well as her career) the licensing board (LARA) threatened to revoke licenses and requested pharmacists to snitch on doctors who were filling prescriptions for the drug.
All of this was done in the absence of any regulations governing state pharmacies that would have supported such a heavy handed decision. From a legal standpoint, it would appear that barring pharmacists from filling Hydroxychloroquine prescriptions might be a bridge too far for Governor Whitmer and her Democratic colleagues. A bridge that, according to the pharmacist we spoke to, will be defended to the bitter end.