Since February, Donald Trump has been touting the benefits of hydroxychloroquine in fighting COVID-19. The claim that the drug, used in the treatment of malaria as well as lupus and arthritis, could help fight the novel coronavirus came from anecdotal results involving small numbers of patients. Still, Trump’s continuous claims that hydroxychloroquine was a “game changer” were a factor in spurring multiple trials of the drug as a treatment for patients at various stages of COVID-19. What those trials found wasn’t only a lack of any evidence that the drug had value in treating COVID-19 patients, but renewed evidence for something scientists already know: Hydroxychloroquine taken in large doses has serious, life-threatening side effects. Several trials were ended early when it turned out patients taking the drug were dying of heart attacks at a rate that exceeded deaths from the virus.
But despite an FDA warning that the drug should not be taken for COVID-19 outside of a closely supervised hospital trial, Donald Trump stood up on national television on Monday and claimed that he was taking the drug. Trump declared that he had been taking the drug without the recommendation of the White House physician, and was taking it to prevent COVID-19 rather than as treatment—a use that was never approved, even for trials. And now it’s clear that Trump’s insistence on supporting this proven-deadly drug is having exactly the result that might be expected: People are dying.
A new report in the medical journal The Lancet provides the results of a large-scale study involving 96,000 patients from around the world. And the results of this study puts a definitive nail into the coffin of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. Across six continents, the results were the same: Patients given hydroxychloroquine had a significantly greater risk of dying than those who were not treated with Trump’s favorite drug.
As The Washington Post notes, this study goes well beyond just saying that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective in curing COVID-19. It shows that it does active harm. Donald Trump has, more than once, asked “what do you have to lose?” while encouraging Americans to take the unproven drug. The answer to that has been clear from the beginning, and it’s even more emphatic now: Your life.
Hydroxychloroquine has always been a dangerous drug. Those taking it for lupus or rheumatoid arthritis take a small dosage, but the dosage level used for both malaria and COVID-19 presents a serious risk of heart attack, blindness, and a long list of other side effects. Those risks are worth it in treating malaria not just because malaria itself is a horrific disease that kills 3 million people a year, but because hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against malaria.
Hydroxychloroquine is not only ineffective against COVID-19—no one has even suggested a mechanism by which it might be effective. It was never more than a treatment applied by a handful of doctors searching for something, anything, they could give to patients who were dying all around them. And the fact that some patients receiving the drug survived was never anything more than coincidental.
There is absolutely no doubt that Trump’s continued support for this medication is generating more unnecessary deaths in the middle of a festival of unnecessary death. He has taken the sh-t sandwich of his miserable COVID-19 response and given it a big dollop of extra sh-t. And Trump isn’t acting out of ignorance—he has any number of experts telling him the truth about this drug. He would simply rather have people die than admit a mistake.
In fact, Trump’s continued claims about hydroxychloroquine aren’t just causing death for those who take the drug, they’re causing misery for patients who desperately need the drug for legitimate purposes. Across the nation, the results are the same: Pharmacies are out of hydroxychloroquine that should be going to lupus patients or arthritis patients because the drugs are being slurped up by people following Trump’s advice.
Any doctor writing a prescription for hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic treatment for COVID-19, or for treatment of COVID-19 outside a closely supervised hospital trial, should not only have their license revoked—they should face charges. That this is going on at such a scale that patients with a legitimate need for the drug cannot obtain it is a second national tragedy … One that is completely without justification.
And the misery generated by Trump’s boneheaded insistence on never admitting a mistake extends beyond just the death of those who believe him, or the suffering of those unable to get their regular treatment. As The Daily Beast reports, some Trump fanatics have even turned to trying to create homebrew hydroxychloroquine using a formula that involves “steeping various fruit rinds” and tonic water.
A whole collection of formulas for brewing up some “hydroxy” have proliferated across the right-wing web. Most of these formulas are useless. Some are certainly dangerous. But none of them are likely to rack up even a fraction of the body count that Trump is achieving by continuing to push a drug simply because he can’t admit that he was wrong.