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Missouri lawmakers seek to gag pharmacists on ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine sulfate

Pharmacist Cheryl Stimson checks in Michael Haynes, who came to the Dumas Family Pharmacy for his first vaccine shot on July 27. Stimson has given more than 5,800 vaccines since the start of the pandemic.
Liz Sanders for NPR
Pharmacist Cheryl Stimson checks in Michael Haynes, who came to the Dumas Family Pharmacy for his first vaccine shot on July 27. Stimson has given more than 5,800 vaccines since the start of the pandemic.

A bill passed by the Missouri legislature this past session prohibits pharmacists from telling patients about dangers related to certain medications — specifically, ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets.

If signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, House Bill 2149 would prevent pharmacists from questioning physicians or patients about the two medications, both sometimes used to treat COVID-19 despite having no FDA clearance for that use.

“I think it will have a chilling effect on pharmacists’ decision-making,” said Liz Chiarello, an associate professor of sociology at St. Louis University. “It's a slap in the face to pharmacists who have been so critical to keeping us safe during COVID, and I think it's a slippery slope. It opens up the opportunity to carve out medications that we do and don't like … allowing these shifting political winds to affect the kinds of care that we receive as patients.”

The bill would also bar the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts from taking action against health care providers who dispense or prescribe ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine sulfate.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Chiarello argued that pharmacists serve as a critical check and balance for physicians. Pharmacists have a duty, she added, to speak up when they have the sense that a certain medication may not be the best fit for a patient.

“Legally, ethically, professionally, pharmacists should be asking those kinds of questions,” she said. “So it's very strange to remove it to excise it around a particular set of drugs.”

Pharmacist Kelly Gable, who is also a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, said she is concerned that the bill restricts pharmacists from educating their patients — and will stifle the work of future pharmacists.

“I just can't imagine the students that I train going out into the world and feeling like there's a restriction on what they're able to provide,” Gable said. “To kind of have these intentional restrictions, it just doesn't match with our hope and our goal and the oath that we take as a pharmacist to provide the best high quality information and medication knowledge and care.”

This proposal is the latest of several politically motivated gag orders on pharmacists in recent decades. “It does seem to be something that's taking off,” Chiarello said.

Despite similar measures being introduced in state legislatures throughout the country, she is hopeful that the coronavirus pandemic has given people a greater appreciation for the work of pharmacists.

“When you think about the fact that pharmacists have only been giving injections, the flu shot, for maybe 10 or 15 years, and the way they jumped in to provide the COVID vaccines … they've just been doing an incredible job.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Emily Woodbury joined the St. Louis on the Air team in July 2019. Prior to that, she worked at Iowa Public Radio as a producer for two daily, statewide talk programs. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in journalism and a minor in political science. She got her start in news radio by working at her college radio station as a news director. Emily enjoys playing roller derby, working with dogs, and playing games – both video and tabletop.