GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan pharmacist wants Michigan’s governor to ban drug hoarding amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“People are scared,” said Dave Miller, co-owner and chief formulation scientist at Keystone Pharmacy on Cascade Road in Grand Rapids Township.
Miller is particularly concerned about efforts to stockpile Hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that’s shown very early untested potential as a treatment for COVID-19.
“When this news came out, people went crazy and started trying to hoard the drug,” explained Miller in an interview Monday.
Miller said doctors are writing “just-in-case” prescriptions for patients who are elderly or have underlying health conditions.
But late last week, two physicians also wrote prescriptions for themselves and their families, which Miller said made him “livid.”
“We’ve had (two) very unscrupulous, unethical doctors trying to get hundreds and hundreds of doses for them and their families. They have (the drugs) kind of as a stockpile… and other people… they’re not going to be able to get the drug,” Miller said. “HIPAA prevents me from saying who they are, but they know who they are.”
Miller said the pharmacist on duty at the time refused to dispense the 510 pills requested, but she did give out a total of 144 between the two doctors and their families. That’s enough for twelve people, since treatment of COVID-19 consists of a 12-pill regimen.
Miller is now limiting access to Hydroxychloroquine to those who have symptoms of the virus and a positive test result.
He’s also reaching out to customers who use the anti-inflammatory drug to treat lupus and arthritis.
“I had to make four very difficult phone calls on Friday afternoon, telling the patients that they’re very unlikely to get this drug next month. It’s just not going to be available. So, talk to your doctor about alternatives.,” he said.
No matter what medication you use, Miller is urging calm. He noted that in past shortages, he’s been able to find effective replacement drugs.
However, he does want Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue an emergency order to ban drug hoarding. He also thinks she should set criminal penalties for it.
“The governor needs to step up and say, ‘if you’re hoarding medication, stop, and, if as a result of your hoarding someone dies because they can’t get the medication they need, you could be charged with manslaughter.’ It’s that serious,” he said.
Miller said part of the problem is insurance companies are now allowing people to purchase three months-worth of medications, but pharmacists usually only stock two to three weeks of inventory.
“The wholesalers who supply us are about the same, which is good under normal circumstances, but when people start panicking and trying to obtain large quantities of medication to make sure they don’t run out, then somebody else is going to be without their medication,” Miller said.
For now, Miller is doing everything he can to protect his customers and staff. Customers use the drive-through only because the store itself is closed to the public. And every thirty minutes, pharmacy employees must stop what they’re doing and wash their hands, and all who enter the building must have their temperature taken first.
Keystone also plans to make hand sanitizer next week to help with the shortage. Right now, they’re waiting for a shipment of alcohol. They’ll make sanitizer by combining the alcohol with glycerin and hydrogen peroxide.
The governor’s office told News 8 it is reviewing the possibility of making a declaration related to drug hoarding.