Teen girl’s vital medication refill denied at first under Arizona’s abortion law

A teen girl was denied a medication refill under Arizona’s new abortion law.
Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 12:30 AM EDT
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD/Gray News) - A 14-year-old Tucson girl was denied a refill of a life-saving prescription drug she had been taking for years just two days after Arizona’s new abortion law had taken effect.

Emma Thompson, 14, has debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, which has kept her in and out of the hospital for most of her life. She relies on methotrexate to help tame the effects of the disease.

But methotrexate can also be used to end ectopic pregnancies, to induce an abortion, and that’s where the problem arises.

“As a mother who has had to deal with my child being very ill most of her life, I was scared, I was really worried,” said her mother Kaitlin Preble. “I was shaking. I was in tears. I didn’t know what to do.”

The young girl’s physician, Dr. Deborah Jane Power, said it was the first pediatric patient of hers that had been denied her medication.

She admits she was angry, which spilled over into a Twitter post where she said, “Welcome to Arizona, she was denied because she’s female” and she said she was “livid.”

The treatment for Emma has been years in the making.

“This child’s care has taken a lot of work to get her to a place her pain is totally manageable; she can attend school in person,” Power said.

This is echoed by her mother.

“It’s her first year, and she’s in high school and it feels like a dream,” Preble said. “She’s not in a wheelchair. She has a social life and friends for the first time, and a life all young people should have.”

This is why there was so much anxiety for the 24 hours between being denied until finally getting the prescription approved.

“I was scared. I was really scared,” Preble said. “I’m like, ‘If they deny this then we’ll have to find a different medication and we don’t know if it’s going to work.’”

Power said a refusal has happened to some older patients but never someone so young and so quickly after the territorial abortion law written in 1864 had taken effect.

“My concern was the pharmacist chose to not refill because methotrexate could be used to cause an abortion,” Power said. “And then the pharmacist would be responsible.”

Walgreens, where the prescription was denied, sent a statement, which said in part: “Trigger laws in various states require additional steps for dispensing certain prescriptions and apply to all pharmacies, including Walgreens. 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 lawful, clinically appropriate prescriptions.”

The American College of Rheumatology has issued warnings to rheumatologists to be aware of the issues that may come up when prescribing methotrexate.

In the meantime, because of the abortion laws, change has come to Arizona.

“Do we know that now causing my patient to delay access to medical care or sometimes potentially no access to medication what kind of change will happen?” Power said. “It’s really frustrating, and I’m very angry.”