- President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted two drugs – chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine-as potential treatments for the new coronavirus.
- The drug is often used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria. It is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a limited number of other conditions.
- But people who need the medication to treat their chronic illness have reported shortages when they go to refill their prescriptions at the pharmacy.
- Linda Epstein, who has been taking hydroxychloroquine to treat her Lupus symptoms for over 30 years, told Business Insider that she fears that she may soon run out of her own life-saving supply as individuals rush to stock up.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted two drugs as potential treatments for the new coronavirus, putting those who rely on the medication to treat chronic illnesses at risk of shortages.
The drugs – chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine– are often used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria. It is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a limited number of other conditions.
Trump has praised the medicine in recent White House press briefings as a potential treatment for the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19. On April 5, Trump said that Americans have “nothing to lose” by taking the drugs to treat COVID-19.
“I’m trying to save lives,” Trump said at his press briefing, doubling down on the benefits of the medication. “I want them to try it and it may work and it may not work. But if it doesn’t work, it’s nothing lost by doing it.”
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for the disease, though researchers have been testing a number of existing drugs for any potential leads.
Anecdotal evidence has indicated that the drugs helped COVID-19 patients, though there have not been any peer-reviewed or clinical data to suggest it’s an effective treatment against the virus.
Trump said at a briefing on Monday that the drug would soon be widely distributed in New York.
“You can look from any standpoint tomorrow in New York, we think tomorrow pretty early, we think the hydroxychloroquine … it’s looking very, very good,” Trump said of the drug. “It’s going to be distributed. We have 10,000 units going, and it will be distributed tomorrow. It will be available, and they already have it and are going to distribute it to many people in New York City and New York.”
This is not the first time Trump praised the drug as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Trump claimed at a briefing last week that the Food and Drug Administration had approved the drug to treat coronavirus. “It’s shown very encouraging – very, very encouraging early results,” he said. “And we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. … it was approved very, very quickly and it’s now approved, by prescription.”
But according to the CDC, there are no FDA-approved drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.
The FDA even issued a statement after Trump’s briefing last week, saying that it has as of yet no approved the drug for use against COVID-19, and said it was working hard to address an “increased demand” for the medication.
“We will take all steps to ensure chloroquine remains available for patients who take it to treat severe and life-threatening illnesses such as lupus,” the FDA said.
Still, those who take the medication to treat chronic illness have reported that an increase in demand has led to shortages.
One woman with lupus told ProPublica that pharmacies near her in Santa Rosa, California, have run out of the drug. Another lupus patient in South Lyon, Michigan, told Business Insider’s Andrew Dunn that she could not get a hold of the medication either.
Linda Epstein, who has been taking hydroxychloroquine to treat her Lupus symptoms for over 30 years, told Business Insider that she is excited for the potential use of chloroquine to treat coronavirus. However, she fears that she may soon run out of her own life-saving supply as people rush to stock up on it.
“My most recent problem is, patients with coronavirus have discovered another use for this drug, which I’m very happy about,” she said. “I think that anybody who is critically ill deserves a life-saving medication option. And if it works, people should have it. But I’m encountering a shortage now.”
Epstein, who lives in Los Angeles and is also an ICU nurse, said she only has a remaining seven weeks left of her three-month prescription.
“I’m lucky enough,” she said. “But I called my pharmacy and they are completely wiped out.”
Taking the drug prophylactically – or to prevent disease – is not without risks. Short-term side effects of the medication include nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Serious side effects or prolonged treatment include liver failure, hearing loss, and muscle paralysis.
A man in Arizona died and his wife is under critical care after self-medicating with chloroquine phosphate, according to Arizona’s non-profit health system Banner Health. The substance is an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks, it added.
Banner Health recommended against people taking the drug to treat COVID-19.
“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” Dr. Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Centre medical director, said in the press release. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”
Nigeria has also recorded cases of chloroquine poisoning after Trump’s endorsement, according to CNN.
“Patients that need it should be given a chance to have it,” Epstein said. “What’s happening is, people are running to their doctors to have them write a prescription as a ‘just-in-case’ medication. And this has created a run on the supply.”
“This is a very powerful medication that needs to be monitored, and you shouldn’t self-medicate with it,” Epstein added.