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Nevada’s osteopaths sue Sisolak over limits on drugs to treat COVID-19

Nevada’s osteopaths filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking Gov. Steve Sisolak and other state officials to lift a ban on the routine prescribing of two anti-malarial drugs to treat COVID-19.

“The practice of medicine is a right, and they’ve taken that away, and they’ve given it to the pharmacy board and the governor,” said Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who filed the suit. “A doctor is in the best position to make that judgment call when a person is in that critical stage of care.”

The March 24 regulation involves chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, drugs long in use to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis that are now undergoing clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment. The drugs have been touted by President Donald Trump, despite potential health risks and inconclusive evidence that they are effective against the new coronavirus.

Sisolak’s regulation prohibited prescribing the drugs for patients with COVID-19 outside of a hospital setting. Doctors were allowed to continue to prescribe them to hospitalized COVID-19 patients at their discretion. The governor signed it at the urging of the state Board of Pharmacy because of reports that the drugs were being hoarded.

The 63-page complaint was filed against Sisolak, Nevada, the pharmacy board and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ihsan Azzam. It states that “the practice of medicine in Nevada is not limited to the hospital setting — it occurs no matter where the physician meets the patient.”

The suit says that a primary care physician “may be the one able to most accurately recognize an immediate and significant decline in a patient’s health and suggest therapeutic intervention when it is needed most. … And with COVID-19, if the therapeutic window is missed, there is likely no second chance.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, hydroxychloroquine “has demonstrated antiviral activity” that could make it effective in the treatment of COVID-19 but is “not without risks,” including heart arrhythmia, seizures, skin reactions, and lowered blood sugar.

Bruce Fong, president of the Nevada Osteopathic Medical Association, wrote in a March 28 letter to members that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Gilbert called Sisolak’s regulation a “ridiculous knee-jerk political reaction” and “borderline criminal.”

A representative of the governor’s emergency COVID-19 response team did not return requests for comment Tuesday. Officials with the pharmacy board and the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services could not be reached.

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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