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U.S. states build stockpiles of malaria drug touted by Trump

ap photo This photo shows an arrangement of Hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas.

SALT LAKE CITY — State and local governments across the United States have obtained about 30 million doses of a malaria drug touted by President Trump to treat patients with the coronavirus, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed.

At least 22 states and Washington, D.C., secured shipments of the drug, hydroxychloroquine, according to information compiled from state and federal officials by The Associated Press. Sixteen of those states were won by Trump in 2016, although five of them, including North Carolina and Louisiana, are now led by Democratic governors.

Supporters say having a supply on hand makes sense in case the drug is shown to be effective against the pandemic that has devastated the global economy and killed nearly 200,000 people worldwide, and to ensure a steady supply for people who need it for other conditions like lupus.

But health experts worry that having the drug easily available at a time of heightened public fear could make it easier to misuse it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned doctors against prescribing the drug, hydroxychloroquine, for treating the coronavirus outside of hospitals or research settings because of reports of serious side effects, including dangerous irregular heart rhythms and death among patients.

It’s the latest admonition against the drug that Trump mentioned 17 times in various public appearances, touting its potential despite his own health advisors telling him it is unproven.

Oklahoma spent $2 million to buy the drugs, and Utah and Ohio have spent hundreds of thousands on purchases. The rest of the cities and states received free shipments from drug companies or the U.S. government over the last month. Ohio received a large donation from a local company.

Several states including New York, Connecticut, Oregon, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas received donations of the medication from a private company based in New Jersey called Amneal Pharmaceutical. Florida was given 1 million doses from Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday it has sent out 14.4 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to 14 cities, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore, from the federal government’s national stockpile, a source that also provided South Dakota and California with supplies. The agency said earlier this month it had sent 19 million tablets and didn’t explain the discrepancy between the two figures. The U.S. government received a donation of 30 million doses from Swiss drugmaker Novartis on March 29 to build up the stockpile, which does not normally stock the drug.

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