AG: State secures drugs to combat virus

Published 4:22 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

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At a press conference Monday with Gov. John Bel Edwards in Baton Rouge, Attorney General Jeff Landry announced he and his team at the Louisiana Department of Justice have secured additional medications for use by Louisiana patients during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Landry said that Teva Pharmaceuticals is making available 8,000 packs of azithromycin and 75,000 tablets of hydroxychloroquine sulfate. This in addition to the 400,000 tablets of hydroxychloroquine directly donated by Amneal Pharmaceuticals last week.

“I want to caution everyone that these drugs do not represent a silver bullet or magic solution to our COVID-19 coronovirus crisis,” Landry said. “However, many medical doctors have chosen to prescribe these drugs to relieve symptoms of the virus in some patients. In some cases, this could allow the recoveries of these patients without the use of ventilators.

“I wish to thank Teva Pharmaceuticals for working with us to provide this important medication to benefit patients in Louisiana.”

To treat patients infected with COVID-19, many medical professionals have coupled the use of hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic azithromycin. As this medication combination has continued to show some promising results around the world, the supply of azithromycin (also known by brand name Zithromax) has begun shrinking. As a result, the ability of Louisiana patients to benefit from this possible treatment was jeopardized. This shortage highlights the importance of today’s announcement.

In noting the support they are providing Louisiana through Landry’s efforts, Teva spokesman Kelly Dougherty said, “Teva has donated more than 10 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets through wholesalers to hospitals across the U.S. and the company is extremely pleased that the people of Louisiana will benefit from this significant contribution. We continue to assess additional ways to address current national need while focusing on our commitment to continue to supply more than 10 percent of the nation’s medicines to patients who need them.”

Because Teva is a named plaintiff in ongoing opioid litigation by the Louisiana Department of Justice, not only did the attorney general seek the consent and counsel of the governor, but he also asked for his further assistance in helping secure the additional medication.

“I want to thank the governor for his assistance on this issue,” Landry said.

“In this fight to reduce the number of infections caused by the COVID-19 virus, Ochsner Health is considering all treatment options for our patients who are so acutely ill,” said Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health. “It is amazing that Attorney General Landry and Gov. Edwards were able to connect healthcare providers in Louisiana with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries to receive distribution of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets. In addition, the attorney general and governor were able to secure the distribution of thousands of packs of Zithromax (azithromycin), also known as Z-Pak. Ochsner Health is very grateful for this increased drug supply across the state, along with the ongoing help of the attorney general and governor in assisting health systems in our fight against the COVID-19 virus.”

Dr. Richard Vath, president and CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System said, “We are pleased to learn of this newest pharmaceutical support aiding Louisiana’s response to this unprecedented pandemic. On behalf of everyone caring for our patients with COVID-19, we are deeply appreciative.”

Last week, Landry announced the donation of 400,000 tablets of hydroxychloroquine from Amneal Pharmaceuticals. On Monday, the attorney general announced that this medication, through the hard work of pharmaceutical distributor Morris & Dickson of Shreveport, has already been delivered to nearly 100 locations around the state. That includes all major metropolitan areas — Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, New Orleans, and Shreveport. Large cities and smaller towns and communities, including those down the bayou, will also receive this medication.

These medications are timely for the LSU Medical School, which received approval for a clinical study to determine whether hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against COVID-19. Their clinical studies include two parts. Part one is the treatment of patients infected by the COVID-19 virus and part two is to determine if it can help inoculate our first-line medical providers.

“I sincerely appreciate the efforts of Attorney General Jeff Landry and State Sen. Fred Mills working with Amneal to bring this donation to the citizens of Louisiana,” said Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of the LSU School of Medicine. “This donation will allow us to conduct clinical trials examining how hydroxychloroquine may help clear the virus from the lungs of infected patients and to potentially help shield healthcare workers who are on the front lines treating patients.”

Should any doctor prescribe hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to patients in Louisiana, in connection with the current COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with the FDA’s clinical approval, the doctor’s actions would likely fall within a legal immunity statute here in Louisiana.

Louisiana state statute R.S. 29:771(B)(2)(c) provides legal immunity for health care providers acting during a public health care emergency, against civil claims concerning the death of, or injury to, a person, or damage to property, except in the event of gross negligence or willful misconduct. If the doctor is a state-qualified health care provider, such as an LSU doctor, that doctor may also be entitled to state immunity under R.S. 29:771(B)(1).

The attorney general notes that these immunities would only apply to state law claims, such as medical malpractice, products liability, and general negligence claims. While state law cannot create an immunity against potential federal law claims, such as a federal constitutional claim of medical deliberate indifference, it is important for our health care workers to know some of these issues have already been addressed in law here in Louisiana.

“As an attorney — I would just note, and our staff team of attorneys at the Louisiana Department of Justice would note — that the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident will always determine whether an individual is entitled to any immunity,” Landry said. “Obviously, we trust and expect our doctors and health care providers to utilize their best judgment and practice good medicine. We all know and trust they are doing their very best during these trying times.

“I will continue to do what I can to assist our state’s efforts to fight this pandemic in Louisiana. Working together we will win and beat this coronavirus.”