Last year, the state of Oklahoma bought $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine, the repurposed anti-malaria drug that former President Donald Trump promoted as a remedy for coronavirus. Not even a year later, Oklahoma’s trying to get its money back.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office is “assisting the health department in trying to return the stockpile” of hydroxychloroquine it bought in April 2020—1.2 million pills, or 100,000 doses—Hunter spokesperson Alex Gerszewski confirmed to VICE News Wednesday. Gerszewski said Hunter’s office got involved after being asked by the health department.
FFF Enterprises, the Southern California-based company that sold Oklahoma the pills, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News. Oklahoma’s efforts to return the stockpile were first reported by The Frontier.
Hydroxychloroquine sulfate was first approved for medical use in the United States in 1955, but at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic it underwent a resurgence as a supposed treatment for the coronavirus. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use to treat the coronavirus on March 28.
But in June, the FDA revoked that authorization, saying that based on available evidence and serious side effects, the agency “determined that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA.”
“Additionally, in light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other potential serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorized use,” the agency’s revocation said.
But even after the FDA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) disavowed the drug to treat COVID-19, Trump continued to defend it and suggested that doctors were only saying it didn’t work because they didn’t like him personally.
“I took it for a 14-day period, and I'm here,” he said on July 28. “I don't think you lose anything by doing it, other than politically. It doesn't seem to be too popular, you know why? Because I recommend it.”
Though nearly two dozen states mostly won by Trump in 2016 had obtained 30 million hydroxychloroquine pills by the end of April 2020—mostly free of charge from FEMA—Oklahoma and Utah were the only states that purchased them from private wholesalers, a decision for which they almost immediately came under fire.
At the time, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt told the Associated Press that buying the stockpile of hydroxychloroquine happened in the “fog of war,” and Stitt defended the purchase by saying hydroxychloroquine was “useful for any number of ailments, to include things like lupus, other autoimmune diseases, and so that money will not have gone to waste in any respect.”
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus, and about 2,000 people are diagnosed with malaria in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People all over the world who suffer from rheumatological diseases like lupus had trouble filling prescriptions after hydroxychloroquine emerged as a supposed coronavirus treatment and “faced worse physical and mental health outcomes as a result,” a survey by the American College of Rheumatology found in November.
Stitt’s office continued to defend the purchase this week in a statement to The Frontier.
“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,” a spokesperson told the Frontier.