The Show on KJZZ

Listen live weekdays at 9 a.m.

After her patient's arthritis meds were denied, Tucson doctor says abortion bans are blocking care

Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 11:02am
Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2022 - 8:54am

Tucson was in the news this week after a pharmacist refused to fill a young girl's arthritis medication. The medicine, methotrexate, is a cheap, effective drug used to treat rheumatic conditions. It's can also be used to treat ectopic pregnancies by inducing an abortion. 

Dr. Deborah Jane Power, a rheumatologist in Tucson, had prescribed the drug to her 14-year-old patient every month. She has been treating the girl for juvenile arthritis for more than 10 years and prescribing very low doses of methotrexate for more than six. The medication works by blocking the production of certain antibodies that interfere with other medications for arthritis. Power says it's helped keep her young patient out of wheelchair and allowed her to go to high school in person. 

Last month, the refill at Walgreens was suddenly refused. 

"My concern and her mother's concern was that it was the first workday after the judge had lifted the injunction on the territorial law," she said. "It's the first time that the pharmacist has refused the medicine when the insurance company is approving it and there's refills on the prescription, and there is no medical reason to deny it."

The girl got the medication hours later after her mother and Power stepped in. But Power says she worries abortion bans will continue to affect her patients' access to the medication going forward. She tweeted about the incident last month. Power says adult patients have faced similar issues getting the medicine. All have been women. 

The American College of  Rheumatology, which Power is part of, outlined those concerns in a statement released after Roe vs. Wade was overturned. In it, physicians said methotrexate prescriptions in doses typical for rheumatology patients "should be filled without delay and with the assumption that they are not being used to terminate a pregnancy."

The territorial law bans all abortion except to save the life of the mother and criminalizes abortion providers. A spokesperson at Walgreens said the company could not discuss specific cases, but that pharmacists are having to take additional steps to assess certain medications in states where abortion bans have taken hold.

"In these states, our pharmacists work closely with prescribers as needed, to fill lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions. We provide ongoing training and information to help our pharmacists understand the latest requirements in their area, and with these supports, the expectation is they are empowered to fill these prescriptions," the statement said. 

Fronteras Abortion Gender Health + Medicine