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Federal prosecutors warn about improper prescribing, stockpiling of touted COVID-19 drugs

Federal prosecutors warn about improper prescribing, stockpiling of touted COVID-19 drugs

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The top federal prosecutors in Virginia on Friday echoed the concerns Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver about a surge in demand for drugs touted as potential — but as yet unproven — treatments for COVID-19.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia ... will be closely monitoring this disturbing trend and are prepared to investigate potential violations of federal and state law committed by any individuals or entities, including physicians, dentists, and other healthcare providers, related to these prescription drugs,” said a statement from the two offices.

In a letter to 68,000 prescribers and pharmacists Wednesday, Oliver warned that the increase in demand was causing a shortage of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, mefloquine and azithromycin to treat people who need it for rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, lupus, malaria and bacterial infections.

He said prescriptions should be restricted in the outpatient setting and should require a diagnosis “consistent with the evidence for its use.” There are currently no antiviral drugs approved for use against COVID-19 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Oliver added.

U.S. attorneys Thomas Cullen of the Western District and Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District cautioned that they are aware of Oliver’s warnings about the increased demand and potentially improper behavior by physicians and other health care providers who may be prescribing these drugs to themselves, their families and others without a legitimate medical purpose.

Cullen said, “At a time when many doctors, nurses, and first responders are risking their health and personal safety to treat those affected by the coronavirus, it is incredibly disturbing that a selfish minority in that field may be undermining these valiant efforts by prescribing outside legitimate medical practice.”

Cullen said his office will work with federal, state and local authorities “to identify unscrupulous physicians and other health care providers who are putting their own well-being ahead of those with a true medical need and hold them accountable under the law.”

Terwilliger said the effort is part of their joint COVID-19 Fraud Task Force.

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