EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – As doctors and nurses fight to have proper gear to treat COVID-19 patients, pharmacies are dealing with a shortage in medications.

CBS2’s Cory James spoke with a local pharmacist who said she is low on some prescription drugs and she doesn’t know when she will get a new shipment.

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“We definitely are on the front lines,” pharmacist Rosa Mathew told James.

Along with doctors, nurses and traditional health care providers, pharmacists, like Rosa Matthew at EZ Care Pharmacy, have been overwhelmed since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“I’m down to my last two packets, so I have to make a decision as to who gets this medication,” said Matthew.

That decision is getting harder each day.


Matthew said an influx in customers is leading to a shortage in medicine, specifically hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

President Donald Trump has said they are potentially game changers in the fight against the deadly virus.

“The fact is they have not been tested in the United States,” Matthew said. “Also another issue with those particular medications is that we don’t have it for our regular clients who need it for their conditions that they were originally prescribed for.”

Those conditions include things like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia.

The shortage is something Renee Hunt, who stopped by to pick up prescriptions, understands.

“I have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes,” she told James. “People that are sick, it’s kind of sad, but the pharmacies are doing the best they can to help everybody.”

Matthew said she is constantly making calls to distributors and manufacturers for help.

“Please get out as much as they can to the little mom and pop pharmacies especially, because we don’t have as much buying power as the big companies, like Walgreens and CVS, do,” she said.

All because of the global outbreak that’s causing a shortage during a growing crisis.

“It absolutely very real, but I hold on to hope that our distributors and wholesalers will come through for us,” said Matthew.

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She hopes that will happen before she is completely out of medicine.

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CBS2’s Jessica Layton spoke to Sharon Schneider, a 63-year-old Manhattan mother who has been living with lupus for 30 years.

“Basically, our bodies attack everything — connective tissue, the joints, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys,” Schenider said.

She credits hydroxychloroquine with controlling her flares and calming her body.

“It’s the only drug for lupus I think for the past 60 years that’s ever been on the market,” Schneider said.

After the president touted the medication as a potential game changer to treat COVID-19, she feared there’d be a run on the pill by people terrified of getting the coronavirus, and she was right.

“It’s been very difficult lately for everybody to refill their prescriptions and we’re running out and nervous,” she said. “I’ve called everywhere and nobody has any.”

Pharmacies like CVS say they’re trying to take steps against stockpiling, and medical experts are sounding the alarm against those taking the drug unnecessarily.

“I understand the instinct to have it just in case, but when it’s sitting there in your medicine cabinet unused, guess what? The people who actually need it may not be able to get it, and that’s actually happening,” said CBS chief medical correspondent Dr. John Lapook.

Doctors say while the drug most often used to treat malaria has shown promise in this current crisis, it has not undergone large trials for the new virus yet.

Schneider just hopes people will only get it for the right reasons.

“Sharon, if you can’t get this refill, what will that mean for you?” Layton asked.

“I could get very sick from it, from not having it,” Schneider said.

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With only two weeks’ supply left in her cabinet, she prays she’ll be able to fill the prescription that lets her live life to the fullest.