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How Arizona is shaping America’s response to virus crisis

A woman uses hand sanitizer after voting in the presidential primary election at the Summit View Church of the Nazarene March 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. The polling place served two precincts as voters who were scheduled to vote at a nearby senior living facility were directed to vote at the church after the facility backed out due to coronavirus concerns. With the virus beginning to take hold in Arizona, the state's Presidential Preference Election and the subsequent election season will be filled with myriad issues related to the virus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A woman uses hand sanitizer. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

As the nation faces the unprecedented coronavirus health care crisis, Arizona’s innovative spirit and fidelity to our state’s constitutional protections has paved the way for us to have an outsized role in the way Washington is responding.

The Goldwater Institute’s years-long work on measures to remove regulatory barriers so Americans can get potentially lifesaving medical treatment holds particular relevance in this crisis. These Goldwater measures — Right to Try, and the Free Speech in Medicine Act — are based on the important goal of bringing the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time. And they’re helping to guide the Trump administration’s response to the crisis.

Victor Riches

Victor Riches

At a coronavirus task force briefing this past week, the Trump administration highlighted the importance of Right to Try as a critical first step in speeding up the FDA’s approval process. The law protects the right of patients facing terminal or life-threatening illness to obtain and use cutting-edge medicines without asking first for government permission when a doctor has advised the treatment, and it opened the door for the critical innovation in treatment that Americans need in today’s crisis.

“Right to Try has been a tremendous success. People are living now who had no chance of living,” President Trump said during the briefing, explaining that the policy has provided hope and breakthrough treatment options that would have otherwise taken years to reach patients who would have run out of time before the treatment obtained final FDA approval years later.

The Right to Try concept, legislative strategy, and bill language were crafted at the Goldwater Institute’s headquarters office in Phoenix. In 2014, the Arizona Terminal Patients’ Right to Try Referendum, Proposition 303, was passed in the Grand Canyon State. Right to Try eventually passed in 41 states and became federal law in May 2018.

The law addresses the concern that the FDA’s bureaucratic drug approval process is too slow when lives hang in the balance. Right to Try works in tandem with the current FDA approval process to meet the immediate needs of patients facing life-threatening illness.

In that same briefing, the president touted chloroquine, an FDA-approved drug to treat malaria and arthritis, as a possible treatment for some COVID-19 symptoms. About one in five prescriptions is “off-label,” meaning the medicine is FDA-approved, but it is prescribed for a different use or dosage. While doctors can already legally prescribe off-label, federal law prohibits pharmaceutical companies from sharing information about off-label uses with doctors. As a result, doctors and patients may be unaware of alternative treatment options lawfully available to them; and, even if they are aware, the information may be dated.

As the U.S. looks to possible effective options to treat the virus, it is important that medical professionals know and understand the arsenal of options at their disposal—and there is a legislative solution for that. Goldwater’s Free Speech in Medicine Act protects the dissemination of truthful, scientific information about off-label uses of FDA-approved drugs. In 2018, the Arizona Legislature unanimously passed Free Speech in Medicine, which allows manufacturers to share truthful, scientific information about off-label uses of their FDA-approved treatments. Two states have now passed the law and more are expected to follow.

The coronavirus outbreak poses many trials for Americans, but fortunately, we have tools to help us meet these challenges. And our home state has been the incubator for these policies that will hopefully help to speed our recovery.

 — Victor Riches is president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, and was an architect of the Right to Try legislative strategy.

5 comments

  1. I would like to see the models and projections that Ducey and Christ are using to make their recommendations. There seems to be a reluctance to share this information. I have made multiple requests and continue to try to obtain this information. Based on the actions of our Governor and Health officials I can only assume that this data would be comforting to the people. As such, I struggle to see why the best modelling data and projections would not be provided.

  2. I hope we can lead the nation in showing effective ways to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19

  3. This guy is so full of it. Goldwater was never like the current institute. He used common sense, logic and pragmatism over the inflexible ideology they now spurt.

  4. Misuse of medications such as Chloroquine recently, resulting in multiple deaths in AZ as well as elsewhere show emphatically why this Right to Try initiative should fail. The current laws in place protect citizens from trying medications out of a sense of faith, when the science does not support that these medications are yet safe to be used for the purpose in mind. In dire circumstances, that decision should be between doctors, pharmacists and their patients on an individual basis. Chloroquine in particular had some limited success only used in such a setting. We see the tragedies that occur when patients insist and push for its use; or just obtain and use it on their own without professional guidance. If the Goldwater Institute wants to help ease patients getting medicines they and their doctors deem helpful, they should work to get insurance companies out of this decision. Insurance companies refusing medications are a far more frequent problem/interference, and they do not possess the education to make those decisions any more than the general public. Laws insisting on thorough testing do sometimes get in the way of a proper doctor/pharmacist/patient desire to try an experimental medication. But at least those laws are based on patient protection, which is a reason to at least pause. Meanwhile, each and every day insurance companies are denying medications; and that is based on expense and statistics. And that is not sufficient reason to deny a doctor/pharmacist/patient decision.

  5. “Right to try” has nothing to do with “self-medicating,” which is what killed the people trying Chloroquine on their own. Insurance companies cannot deny a patient a drug (they can only refuse to pay for it) but government can withhold anything they want under current law. Who on earth wants politicians and bureaucrats practicing medicine on us? It’s time to make the FDA advisory-only, and let patients and doctors decide the best course of treatment.

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