Oklahoma’s purchase of $2.6 million worth of a much-hyped drug to treat COVID-19 will end where it started: back at the California drug wholesaler who sold the shipment a year ago at the outset of the pandemic.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Friday the state had reached an agreement with FFF Enterprises Inc. to take back the 1.2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine. The agreement means the company won’t face a lawsuit alleging the state overpaid for the drug, which is commonly used to treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and to prevent malaria. FFF denied overcharging the state.
“The state of Oklahoma is no longer interested in owning or possessing the products purchased from FFF Enterprises and has sought to return the products in exchange for a refund of total purchase price,” the settlement agreement said.
After inspecting the hydroxychloroquine shipment, FFF Enterprises will refund the money to the state over five quarters. The state will pay for shipping charges or fees, the agreement said.
In a statement, Hunter credited the company’s leadership for working with the state to find a solution.
“They recognized we were in competition with every other state in the nation to get whatever we could to protect Oklahomans,” Hunter said. “When it was determined the drug wasn’t effective in combating the virus, they did the right thing by refunding our money.”
Last month, Oklahoma Watch reported the shipment was sent to a small pharmacy in Pryor, but officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health were reluctant to explain why or how the shipment was sent to Beggs Pharmacy. A member of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Coronavirus Solutions Task Force, Clayton Bullard, said the pharmacy was going to make $1.05 on each prescription for the drug.
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The settlement agreement makes the state responsible for providing temperature logs and licenses of all the places the shipment was stored, including Beggs Pharmacy. The drugs have an expiration date in December, according to records obtained by Oklahoma Watch.
Hunter spokesman Alex Gerszewski said the attorney general had no comment on how the shipment ended up in Pryor. Hunter last year asked State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd for an investigative audit into health department pandemic purchases. That investigation is in progress.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment only in hospital settings. That didn’t stop many, including former President Donald Trump, from hyping the drug as a promising treatment for anyone with the virus. The federal approval was short-lived, with the FDA revoking its emergency use authorization by last summer.
The rapid spike in demand for hydroxychloroquine last spring and early summer led to shortages of the drug for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Several states, including Oklahoma, temporarily limited the dispensing of the drug by pharmacies. Those restrictions were lifted after the FDA pulled its emergency approval for the drug to treat COVID-19.
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.