President Trump’s hydroxychloroquine announcement leaves some in fear of a drug shortage

President Donald Trump's announcement that he is taking hydroxychloroquine has medical experts and patients with auto-immune disorders concerned, a Kane In Your Corner investigation found.

News 12 Staff

May 20, 2020, 12:15 AM

Updated 1,433 days ago

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President Donald Trump's announcement that he is taking hydroxychloroquine has medical experts and patients with auto-immune disorders concerned, a Kane In Your Corner investigation found.
Studies find little evidence the drug is effective in preventing or treating the coronavirus, while side effects can be severe or even fatal. And patients who depend on it to treat diseases like lupus worry the drug, already in short supply, may become even harder to find.
Speaking to reporters Monday, the president announced he started taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, often abbreviated as HCQ, about 10 days ago. "I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you 'you’re right.’ I’m not going to get hurt by it," he said.
But doctors say people can be hurt by HCQ. The drug has been found to cause serious side effects, including potentially fatal problems with heart rhythms.
"The main side effect, which is the cardiac side effect. If you get it, it’s very bad," says Dr. Barron Lerner, professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Hydroxychloroquine, originally a malaria drug, has evolved into a treatment for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other immune disorders. Because it is effective in stopping the body's immune system from overreacting, causing instances of massive swelling known as "cytokine storms,” some doctors suspected it might be effective in treating COVID-19, which can cause similar swelling to the lungs.
French doctors reported in March that the drug seemed to do just that. But the study was small, and quickly came under attack from others in the medical community for its methodology. The French medical journal that published the study later retracted it, saying it did not meet its standard of proof.
"This is such a common thing when you’re putting out new drugs in a rush," Dr. Lerner says. "You get one study that purports to show some benefit and everyone gets excited about it. It’s often a flawed study based on anecdotal information."
Last week, an American study, the largest to date, found hydroxychloroquine did not lower COVID-19 mortality rates. But the popular cocktail of HCQ and an antibiotic dramatically raised the risk of patients dying of heart attacks.
"The second study," Lerner says, "was not suggestive at all."
There's also little evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine might prevent people from contracting the coronavirus, as the president seems to believe. And some in the medical field point out that there's not much of a theory to explain why it might. Clinical trials are underway in Minnesota and Michigan nonetheless, with the families of COVID-19 patients acting as subjects.
But with patients increasing requesting that their doctors prescribe HCQ, the Food and Drug Administration says there is already a worldwide shortage. The president's comments are nerve-wracking to people like Angel Rodriguez of Jersey City, New Jersey. She suffers from lupus, and worries that if even more people start demanding the drug, she will be unable to get it, and unable prevent the recurrence of symptoms like severe joint pain, exhaustion, and anemia.
"This medication, to me, is life dependent," she says. "I take it every day. I need it to survive. I need it to keep going."
"When you hear the president say he’s taking it for preventative measures and asking, 'What do you have to lose?', what do you feel about that?" News 12 New Jersey's Walt Kane asks her.
"Honestly, it breaks me up inside. It’s making it hard for me to get my medication. And if it’s hard for me, it’s hard for a whole bunch of other patients,” Rodriguez replied.
The Associated Press reported that the president’s doctor did not recommend hydroxychloroquine to him, but that he requested it from the White House physician.
That physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said in a statement that, after “numerous discussions” with Trump, “we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”
Photos: The Heroes of the Coronavirus Pandemic
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