The Court’s 5-4 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which halted abortion procedures across the country, also appears to be affecting certain drug regimens. Reports have emerged that pharmacies are denying access to methotrexate (MTX), a drug often used in patients with arthritis or cancer, as well as psoriasis and other skin diseases. In very high doses, MTX it is used to terminate an ectopic pregnancy after miscarriage. The drug can also lead to birth defects.
“It’s happening all over,” Donald Miller, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice at North Dakota State University, Fargo, said in an interview. “Pharmacists are reluctant to dispense it, and rheumatologists are reluctant to prescribe it because they’re afraid of going to jail.”
Becky Schwartz, a patient who takes MTX for lupus, recently tweeted that her physician’s office stopped prescribing the drug because it is considered an abortifacient. “I had care that made my disabled life easier, and [the Supreme Court] took that from me,” Ms. Schwartz wrote.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, physicians were concerned about the impact an overturning of the 1973 law would have on patient access to MTX and other prescription medications with abortifacient properties. Doctors in general are becoming afraid of prescribing anything that’s a teratogen, said Dr. Miller.
MTX is used far more often for autoimmune disease than as an abortifacient, said rheumatologist Kristen Young, MD, clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix. It’s a slippery slope if states reacting to the Supreme Court ruling start regulating oral abortifacients, she added. Specifically, this will have a significant impact on patients with rheumatic disease.
Texas pharmacies target two drugs
MTX denials have caught the attention of health care organizations. “Uncertainty in financial and criminal liability for health care professionals in certain state laws and regulations are possibly compromising continuity of care and access [to] medications proven to be safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration for these indications,” warned the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) in a statement to this news organization.
The APhA said that it was monitoring this situation to assess the effect on patients and pharmacists.
The Arthritis Foundation was made aware of challenges from patients in accessing their MTX prescription for managing their arthritis and shared a statement on the Foundation’s website.
In Texas, pharmacists can refuse to fill scripts for misoprostol and MTX, a combination used for medical abortions. According to the foundation, “Already there are reports that people in Texas who miscarry or take methotrexate for arthritis [are] having trouble getting their prescriptions filled.”
MTX, approved by the FDA in 1985, “is the absolute cornerstone of rheumatoid arthritis. We cannot deny our patients this incredibly valuable drug,” said John Reveille, MD, vice-chair for the department of medicine at the University of Texas McGovern School of Medicine and a member of the Arthritis Foundation expert panel, in an interview.
“While it’s true that methotrexate can be lethal to the fetus, misoprostol is much more likely to cause a spontaneous abortion, and the combination is especially effective,” he said.
“If you look at Cochrane clinical studies, the dose of misoprostol contained in certain combinations with NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] can induce spontaneous abortions. It’s surprising that pharmacists are targeting methotrexate, an essential drug in arthritis treatment, when there are medications available that do not have this benefit that can by themselves cause loss of the fetus, such as mifepristone,” added Dr. Reveille.
The Dobbs ruling could also affect the ability of oncologists to provide lifesaving cancer care, according to Jason Westin, MD, an oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the department of lymphoma and myeloma.
“We have heard of medications with multiple indications, such as methotrexate, not being dispensed by pharmacies due to confusion regarding the intended use and potential consequences for the health care team,” he said in an interview.