Oklahoma trying to return its $2m stockpile of hydroxychloroquine

AuthorDYLAN GOFORTHdylan@readfrontier.com
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OPIOID TRIAL RULING
Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks to the media after Judge Thad Balkman read a summery of his decision in the opioid trial at the Cleveland County Courthouse in Norman, Okla. on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Judge Balkman ruled in favor of the State of Oklahoma, that Johnson and Johnson pay $572 million to a plan to abate the opioid crisis. The proceeding were the first public trial to emerge from roughly 2,000 U.S. lawsuits aimed at holding drug companies accountable for the nation’s opioid crisis. [Chris Landsberger/Pool]

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has been tasked with attempting to return a $2 million stockpile of a malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as a way to treat the coronavirus.

In April, Gov. Kevin Stitt, who ordered the hydroxychloroquine purchase, defended it by saying that while it may not be a useful treatment for the coronavirus, the drug had multiple other uses and “that money will not have gone to waste in any respect.”

But nearly a year later the state is trying to offload the drug back to its original supplier, California-based FFF Enterprises, Inc, a private pharmaceutical wholesaler. 

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, told The Frontier this week that the AG’s office was working with the state health department “to try to figure out a solution.”

Gerszewski said Hunter’s office had gotten involved at the request of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Stitt was criticized last year for the $2 million purchase, a move viewed by some as a partisan move to curry favor with conservatives who were defending Trump amid criticism of his own support of the drug. But Stitt defended the purchase at the time by likening it to the race early last year to procure personal protective equipment for Oklahomans, believing it was better to have the hydroxychloroquine stockpile and not need it, rather than to later learn the drug was useful but not have it.

Stitt’s spokeswoman Carly Atchison told The Frontier this week that  “Every decision the Governor makes is with the health and lives of Oklahomans in mind, including purchasing hydroxychloroquine, securing PPE, and now distributing vaccines as quickly and efficiently as possible to combat this COVID crisis.”

The state purchased the hydroxychloroquine stockpile in early April, days after Trump began to tout it as a treatment. While many acknowledged at the time that reports of the drug’s effectiveness were purely anecdotal, Trump said at a briefing in March, “What do we have to lose? I feel very good about it.”

Health officials nationwide immediately began to caution people against using the drug, throwing water on the idea that it could cure a coronavirus infection and cautioning that it could have serious side effects, including irregular heart rhythms and even the possibility of death. The drug was ultimately discredited as a treatment option and the National Institute of Health released a report in November that the drug had “no clinical benefit to hospitalized patients.” 

Though more than 20 states ultimately bought hydroxychloroquine drugs for potential use against COVID-19, Oklahoma, along with Utah, was one of only two states who purchased the drug from private wholesalers, according to the Associated Press.

Stitt wasn’t alone in his support of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. In August, Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, promoted hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment after he had contracted COVID-19. 

Though the drug had been widely discredited at that point, Humphrey, who has recently made news for seeking to establish a Bigfoot hunting season in Oklahoma and made waves in 2017 when he referred to pregnant women as “hosts,” encouraged Oklahomans to “take courage and begin treating COVID with Hydroxychloroquine.”

It’s unclear yet how much of the initial $2 million investment in the hydroxychloroquine the state could recoup. FFF Enterprises did not immediately respond to a request for comment.