Quebec stocked up on colchicine after study results released, says health minister

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By Cindy Sherwin, CTV News Montreal

MONTREAL -- Quebec’s health minister said Friday he wanted to “remind the population” the recent and cautious recommendation issued about the medication colchicine doesn’t mean “doctors can’t prescribe it if they want to prescribe it.”

On Thursday, an expert committee from the province’s clinical research institute (INESSS) said it had advised the government and the province’s medical community that it’s premature to start using colchicine to treat people with COVID-19.

The scientists said they based their interim decision on inconclusive evidence about the drug’s benefits in the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) COLCORONA study.

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There were also serious concerns about the demonstrated increased risk of pulmonary embolism among people who were treated with colchicine in the trial.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in an independent science journal.

Health Minister Christian Dube said the government was very proud to be associated with the study, had helped fund it and even stocked up on colchicine “to be ready if demand for the drug accelerated.”

And that’s what happened, according to the director-general of the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors, Hugues Mousseau.

“We indeed experienced a higher-than-usual demand from pharmacies,” after the MHI press release promoting colchicine’s effectiveness was issued, said Mousseau, saying it was “a few times the usual volume.”

It’s not known if the influx of prescriptions is linked to the glowing press release and doctors deciding to start prescribing it to treat COVID-19 patients immediately.

The health ministry had said in a memo to doctors on Jan. 25, it would instruct pharmacists not to dispense colchicine if it was prescribed before someone was even diagnosed with COVID-19.

In the last few days, “the demand for colchicine has returned to more normal patterns,” said Mousseau.

Christian Dube emphasized on Friday that INESSS “said we should be prudent,” but added the research institute's recommendation was “preliminary.”

He said the situation “could evolve in the next few weeks” if they get more positive news about colchicine once the study is published. 

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