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Trump Call that Malaria Drugs Treat Coronavirus Spurs Warnings, Shortages

No clinical tests have proven chloroquine can treat the novel coronavirus, despite recent claims by President Donald Trump. (Adobe Stock)
No clinical tests have proven chloroquine can treat the novel coronavirus, despite recent claims by President Donald Trump. (Adobe Stock)
March 24, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Health officials are issuing warnings about the use of antimalarial drugs after President Donald Trump touted them as a possible cure for COVID-19. His comments have sparked stockpiling around the world.

Mass use of chloroquine and other quinine drugs without testing is dangerous, said Dr. Remington Nevin, epidemiologist and executive director of the Quinism Foundation and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He explained this class of drugs can be neurotoxic, with disturbing and possibly permanent mental-health side effects.

"The widespread use of chloroquine for prophylaxis is associated with a measurable increase in the rate of incidence of neuropsychiatric illness," Nevin said. "A population prophylaxis on chloroquine will be more anxious, more depressed, more psychotic and more suicidal."

He said he's troubled that some doctors in the United States have started to prescribe the drugs for use against the coronavirus. And he emphasized their effectiveness has not been demonstrated in full-scale clinical studies.

After Trump's comments and followup Tweets about chloroquine, many hospitals and individuals started stockpiling it as well as hydroxychloroquine. These anti-malarial drugs are vital for treating the symptoms of lupus, according to Dr. Michelle Petri with Johns Hopkins' Lupus Clinic.

She said the run on them is preventing her lupus patients from getting refills from their local pharmacies.

"If it turns out it does work for coronavirus, then our government needs to ramp up the production so there will be enough for people who have COVID, but also for the lupus patients who cannot survive without it," Petri said.

U.S. hospital orders for chloroquine rose 3,000% in the first three weeks of March compared with typical demand, according to Premier Inc., which purchases hospital supplies. In that same period, hydroxychloroquine orders were up 260%.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD