Gov. Herbert announces investigation into $800k hydroxychloroquine purchase

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The state of Utah is coming under fire for its $800,000 purchase of a drug touted as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 outside of a hospital or approved clinical trial. 

The caution comes on the heels of the state’s $800,000 order for hydroxychloroquine. 

During a Friday news briefing, Governor Gary Herbert (R) Utah, said the purchase was made “unbeknownst” to him.

“I have some questions about how this came about, the transparency of it and a few other things too,” the governor told reporters.

ABC4 News obtained documents that show the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget approved an order for 20,000 packs of hydroxychloroquine from Meds in Motion, a pharmaceutical supplier. 

Paul Edwards, Communications Director for the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, sent the following statement:

“In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) was authorized to make rapid fire decisions about strategic purchases in support of the state’s response to the pandemic. All such purchases, such as those for personal protective equipment (PPE), were acquired in anticipation that federal funding would eventually follow on to support those purchases. On March 31, 2020, GOMB approved the purchase of 20,000 units of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment option for COVID-19 from Meds in Motion at a cost of $800,000. The state has not yet taken delivery of that order.”

State Representative Suzanne Harrison (D) Draper, a medical doctor, says the state’s large purchase of hydroxychloroquine is concerning.

“The jury is out. We don’t know if this is effective, and until we know something is definitively effective or helpful, that’s an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars in my opinion.”

According to the FDA, “hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.” The FDA authorized temporary use in approved clinical trials but cautioned against using the drugs outside of a hospital setting due to the “risk of heart rhythm problems.”

As of this report, it’s still unclear what will happen to the state’s, close to 1-million dollar purchase of a drug that now carries an FDA warning. 

“That’s part of the review process to see what the obligations are that we have, and did we get something that is not what we bargained for. That is yet to be determined,” Governor Herbert said. 

Representative Dr. Harrison says the state never needed a large purchase hydroxychloroquine because Utah already had a stockpile of the drug. 

“There are already more than 170,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine in the state of Utah. There has never been a shortage of this medication in Utah. There are no supply chain issues. I think that’s a red herring argument. I don’t think this is something the state needs to get involved in.”

“Maybe we did make a mistake. We have to wait and see. So I’m just a little reluctant to say how we got involved because I don’t know for sure. I’ve heard different stories,” the governor said.

“Bottom line is we are not purchasing any more of this drug, hydroxychloroquine, and the situation in its entirety is now under legal review by our legal counsel to see what happened, how it happened and why it happened,” said Governor Herbert.

The governor said he will have answers next week.

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