Two drugs that showed a very different trend were amoxicillin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, and hydrocodone-acetaminophen, an opioid-containing painkiller that is commonly sold under the brand name Vicodin. Prescriptions for both declined in March and then plummeted in April. Dr. Warraich speculated that fewer painkillers were prescribed because of drops in elective medical procedures and visits to the dentist. Antibiotic use may have fallen in the past few months as doctors became more likely to suspect coronavirus, rather than bacterial infections, among people with cold and flu symptoms, Dr. Warraich said, or fewer people with symptoms may have been visiting their doctors because of concerns about catching the virus.
Dr. Warraich said the most encouraging finding was that compared with other medications there were no substantial drops in prescriptions for the two most popular groups of blood pressure medications, known as ACE inhibitors and ARBs. When the pandemic began, some scientists theorized that these classes of drugs could make people more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus or developing severe symptoms. Those concerns have since been dispelled by recent studies. But experts still worried that many patients might have been scared into stopping their blood pressure medications. The new study suggests that did not happen.
“That was probably the most reassuring part of this analysis, which was that there was no major drop off in people having these medications prescribed,” Dr. Warraich said.
After peaking in mid-March, prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine declined substantially but mostly remained elevated above their normal levels throughout April. To help ease the demand, some states issued strict new rules, such as requiring that doctors prescribe the drugs only for conditions that they have been proven to treat. Patient advocacy groups like the Arthritis Foundation and the Lupus Foundation of America sent letters to state pharmacy boards, the White House, Congress, the F.D.A. and other agencies asking them to help ensure that patients with chronic conditions could access the drugs.
“We have a lot of heartache in our patient population over the barriers they had in filling their prescriptions,” said Guy Eakin, the senior vice president of scientific strategy at the Arthritis Foundation.
Maureen Stewart has used hydroxychloroquine since 2005 to treat lupus. Her local pharmacy in Pittsburgh told her they were having trouble with their supply chain and needed to use two different manufacturers to fill her last prescription in late March. Without the drug, her joints become inflamed, especially her knees and her ankles, causing pain and swelling that make it difficult for her to walk. She is scheduled to get her next prescription in June and is anxious about it.
“I’m concerned about going for my next refill because of all the publicity,” she said. “I worry what’s going to happen if I can’t get it.”
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