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US reports increase in Hydroxychloroquine misuse

Published on 09/04/20 at 10:50am
Photo by Joegoauk Goa

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) has said there has been an increase in people abusing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, after being touted by President Donald Trump as a coronavirus treatment.

Since Trump first mentioned the drug on 19 March, there have been 76 cases of hydroxychloroquine abuse compared to 35 during this same period last year. 77% of these cases were non-toxic meaning most patients taking the drug inappropriately were not poisoned. 

The drug is not safe for everyone to take, and it can cause severe side effects such as impaired vision, hearing loss, paranoia and cardiac arrhythmias which could be fatal for people taking anti-depressants or patients with heart problems.

Mark Ryan, the President of the AAPCC and Director of the Louisiana Poison Center, said about the dangers of taking the drug, saying: “We’ve heard about the combination of hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin, which has the potential to cause some abnormalities in heart rhythm. That’s a concern for the people who have never taken it before and then take a large dose or someone who isn’t under doctor supervision.”

Trump has continually pushed the drug as a treatment for COVID-19, saying people have “nothing to lose” by taking it. Conservative media has also pushed the treatment with Fox News running segments on its benefits while Trump allies Rudy Giulani and Charlie Kirk have also taken the President’s lead in saying how effectively it can treat COVID-19.

Reports of the increased abuse of the drug may have factored into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removing it’s guidelines on using hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus. The site removed a statement saying that the drug is “reportedly well-tolerated in COVID-19 patients” and is currently recommended for the “treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in several countries.”

This has now been changed to: “There are no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are under investigation in clinical trials.”

The evidence for its effectiveness comes from two studies. Part of the evidence is from Professor Didier Raoult and his study of 36 people in France. Raoult said he cured 100% of the patients but left out that six dropped out after the first six days and they died, were transferred to the ICU or couldn't tolerate the drug.

But a study out of Wuhan is getting more positive attention, where researchers tested the drug in 62 people with mild to moderate COVID-19 in a controlled studied. In patients who received the drug the time to clinical recovery was significantly shorter.

America is attempting to expand its stockpile of the drug, with Trump saying the government have stockpiled 29 million pills of hydroxychloroquine.

Trump threatened India after it banned exports of the drug on 25 March, but after pressure from the US, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would allow limited exports to certain countries.

Conor Kavanagh

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