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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The COVID-19 pandemic is making it difficult for arthritis patients to get their medicine.

Hydroxychloroquine helps reduce inflammation in joints, but it’s also being touted as a potential treatment for COVID-19, putting the drug in short supply for those with prescriptions.

Five tablets of hydroxychloroquine is all Golden Valley resident Linda Ewald has left to treat her arthritis. She supposed to take two a day.

“They would’ve been gone if I didn’t cut back to one [per day],” Ewald said.

Rationing them has become painful.

“I can even notice already that my joints are hurting, my hands are swelling because I’m not taking the proper dose,” Ewald said.

RELATED: What Is Hydroxychloroquine?

She said she tried filling her prescription at a Walgreens pharmacy in late March, but the drug was out of stock. It’s a problem across the metro.

Banadir Pharmacy in Minneapolis ran out. Thrifty White Pharmacy in Forest Lake has three tablets in stock.

Pharmacist John Hoeschen, who owns St. Paul Corner Drug Store, said he hasn’t been able to buy hydroxychloroquine for three weeks.

“We have now worked through what we had in stock and I believe there’s two tablets on the shelf, yet and we owe somebody 15 from their fill,” he said.

Hydroxychloroquine (credit: CBS)

The drug, which also prevents malaria, is being researched as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Hoeschen said that means the pills are being sent to hospitals and labs.

“Anytime that a medication is looked at a possible treatment or cure for something, a lot of times people that have access to supply lines will just wipe it out,” he said. “I’m sure there’s been pharmacies and pharmacy owners that have grabbed all they can get their hands on in the last two weeks or even before that. And that’s why right now there’s nothing in the supply line at all.”

A spokesperson for Walgreens told WCCO, “At this time, Walgreens has maintained an adequate supply and inventory of these medicines and are able to meet the prescription needs of our current patients,” while also acknowledging that supply might vary by location.

To ensure enough medicine is available, Walgreens is rationing its supply. New customers can only get a 14-day prescription of hydroxychloroquine. Returning customers getting a refill of the drug can only get a 30-day supply, even if their previous prescription was up to 90 days.

“I get it every 60 days, so my arthritis doctor called it in to put me on a 30-day just hoping that at least I could get some for now,” Ewald said.

Hoeschen expects to get a smaller-than-usual shipment of the drug in the coming days. Ewald was told by her pharmacy to wait a week.

“I have to have that medicine. I’ve taken it for years,” she said.

President Donald Trump has said the drug could be a game changer in the fight against COVID-19. But his scientific advisers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, said there’s not enough evidence yet to prove it works.

Jeff Wagner

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