Torrance man allegedly stole hydroxychloroquine from hospital, controversial drug studied as COVID-19 treatment

A Torrance man has been charged with stealing thousands of dollars' worth of a controversial medication that has been touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19 from the hospital where he worked.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Torrance man has been charged with stealing thousands of dollars' worth of a controversial medication that has been touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

The suspect, Christopher Mencias Agustin, 36, of Torrance is accused of stealing more than 700 tablets of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, valued at about $6,700.

Officials allege that Agustin stole the medication from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he had worked as a pharmacy technician.

Hydroxychloroquine is an established anti-malaria medication that also treats arthritis and is available by prescription only. Azithromycin is an established antibiotic.

The two medications also have been touted by President Trump as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

Clinical results so far remain inconclusive. Some doctors have reported success treating patients in a small sample size, but larger studies have found insufficient evidence to indicate the drugs will be successful or should be widely prescribed.

One larger study even found a higher death rate among COVID-19 patients who were treated with the drugs.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Department allege that Agustin stole the tablets from the hospital on two separate occasions.

With the new attention on those medications as a possible treatment, inventory control and monitoring at hospitals has been tightened. An inventory picked up on a significant missing quantity and hospital officials notified authorities.

The investigation led to the arrest of Agustin on March 31 for grand theft and burglary. A search warrant on April 9 at his Torrance home found additional prescription drugs and a controlled substance, officials say.

Agustin is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail. He is facing two felony counts of second-degree burglary during an emergency and one felony count of concealing or withholding stolen property exceeding $950.

If convicted, he faces a maximum of four years and four months in jail.
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