SACRAMENTO, Calif — The coronavirus epidemic is impacting pharmacies and people with chronic illnesses who depend on drugs that are being investigated as potential treatment for COVID-19.

The same drug that was recently publicized by President Donald Trump as a possible cure for the coronavirus despite a lack of scientific proof.

On Saturday, the president tweeted in part, "HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine..."

However, experts say the anecdotal success of this mixture to treat coronavirus overseas hasn't been fully studied or verified by the Food and Drug Administration. The Centers for Disease Control cautions against it and pharmacists say it could prove deadly.

"The two together can cause something called QT prolongation which is an arrythmia of the heart and very serious condition," said Clint Hopkins, a pharmacist in Sacramento.

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On Monday, Arizona health officials announced that a man died and a woman was hospitalized after the two of them ingested, chloroquine phosphate, a chemical used to clean fish tanks.

The woman told NBC News in an interview that the two of them, who are both in their 60s, took the chemical after hearing Pres. Trump tout its anecdotal success to cure COVID-19.

The death wasn't the only issue that came from the president's remarks.

Hopkins told ABC10 that the consequences of publicizing a theoretical treatment is causing shortages. He said prescribing doctors are hoarding the medication for their families and patients, spelling trouble for patients who actually need those medications.

Hydroxychlorquine, known as the brand Plaquenil, is an anti-inflammatory prescribed for chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The Lupus Foundation says tens of thousands of Americans rely on the medication, and it is urging federal leaders to ensure those people can get their life saving medicine, while it is being investigated and vetted as treatment for some coronavirus patients.

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Hopkins says due to the demand, he's had to ration medication at his pharmacy, including HIV treatment, which is also in early investigation phases. 

"We're reserving the medication for those patients because we don't want them to end up in a crisis situation, whereas these other prescriptions are more a prospective prescription," Hopkins said.

However, Hopkins said his pharmacy has already dispensed the medication to regular patients, and the re-supply is on back order from the manufacturer.

Cindy Hespe of Davis said it took her two weeks to track down the medication.

Hespe happens to be a pharmacist, too, so she jumped to get her refill, knowing the drugs were being studied as treatment for COVID-19.

"I actually put a post on Facebook," Hespe said. "I had friends call all over the country to help find it for me. It was impossible to get it."

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Van Tieu.


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