In the middle of March, President Donald Trump began a hard push for a drug he believed could be helpful in treating patients who had developed symptoms of coronavirus.
“I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game-changer,” Trump said at the time, referring to hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that is also sometimes used for lupus patients.
Trump made the claims without any scientific backing, a point that many coronavirus task force members have pointed out. But beyond his own task force’s recommendations that more study was needed before a full-throated endorsement might be appropriate, the CIA itself was also telling its own employees that they shouldn’t pursue the drug or use it, according to reporting from The Seattle Times.
“At this point, the drug is not recommended to be used by patients except by medical professionals prescribing it as part of ongoing investigational studies,” a CIA website for employees read in late March. “There are potentially significant side effects, including sudden cardiac death, associated with hydroxychloroquine and its individual use in patients need to be carefully selected and monitored by a health care professional.”
The discussion of the drug appeared on a site that was crafted for questions from employees about coronavirus in general. In addition to the warnings cited above, it contained another very specific instruction: “Please do not obtain this medication on your own.”
There have been limited studies produced on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat patients that have contracted COVID-19 during this pandemic. Trump and others who are promoting the drug’s use often cite one study out of France, but many have criticized that study for severe limitations and questionable methods used to reach its findings. Indeed, the journal that published the study is now considering issuing a retraction for having done so.
Other studies have found the drug is not as safe as Trump has said it is. In a separate French study, dozens of patients using the drug were found to have developed severe heart issues. An attempt to see if a close cousin of the drug (chloroquine) could help coronavirus patients in Brazil resulted in a sudden halting of that study after 11 patients died and many others developed similar heart problems.
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Chris Walker is a freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisconsin. A millennial with more than a decade of journalism experience, Chris aims to provide readers with the latest and most accurate news of national importance. Chris likes to spend his free time doing activities in his community with his family.