- Famotidine, the active ingredient in Pepcid AC and other heartburn medicines, is being studied as a possible coronavirus treatment.
- There’s no word yet that it could be useful at all, but that isn’t stopping people from stocking up.
- At Walgreens, CVS, and on Amazon, most famotidine medicines were in perilously low stock around the country.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The active ingredient in many heartburn medications is being studied as a possible coronavirus treatment, leading to shortages of popular heartburn brands at major US pharmacies.
Famotidine, an antacid and antihistamine found in the name brand Pepcid AC and other generics, is currently being used in a trial by researchers at Northwell Health in the New York City area, Dr. Kevin Tracey told Business Insider.
Even as Tracey urged people not to go out and hoard heartburn medicines, retailers like Amazon and Walgreens, appeared to already be experiencing shortages.
On Amazon, name brand Pepcid AC and all three generic options found through a search were unavailable or otherwise out of stock on Monday afternoon. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At CVS, the US’ largest pharmacy chain, famotidine — either in Pepcid or generic form — was out of stock at most New York locations, according to its website. Searches in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and other cities produced similar results, with most locations out of stock. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walgreens appeared to have experienced the same rush as CVS, with zip codes around the US showing out of stock notices at most locations searched by Business Insider, with a few stores showing limited stock. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s still too early to tell if famotidine will be useful in any treatment of coronavirus patients, Tracey said. Even if some benefits are found, patients in the study are taking extremely high doses intravenously, far more than someone would ever take for heartburn.
“You should not go to the drugstore and take a bunch of heartburn medicine,” he told CNN.
Science Magazine reported Sunday that the researchers had fought to keep the study quiet, fearing a possible run on the medicines.
“If we talked about this to the wrong people or too soon, the drug supply would be gone,” Dr. Tracey told the publication. There was already ample evidence to support his fears.
The possible benefits — and subsequent shortages — of famotidine are not unlike what happened earlier this year with a malaria pill from the 1940s that was hyped by influential leaders spanning from President Donald Trump to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Two weeks after Business Insider covered their hopes that the drug, hydroxychloroquine, could be used to fight coronavirus, and resulting shortages as Americans stocked up, the US Food and Drug Administration officially recognized the shortages.
There remains no peer-reviewed clinical data showing that these old generic drugs, which some people still take for Lupus and other conditions, work against COVID-19.
“The fear, the chaos, and the panic is a far greater threat to humanity than a virus, especially for a therapy that may or may not work,” Michael Rea, the CEO of Rx Savings Solution who was previously a pharmacist, told Business Insider of the explosive demand for drugs rumoured to be a possible treatment.
Rea advises all healthcare workers to act professional in these times, he said.
“Don’t let fear dictate your decisions,” Rea said. “Only use the drug, prescribe the drug, obtain the drug if you truly need it.”
Andrew Dunn contributed to this story.
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