"I hope they use the hydroxychloroquine, and they can also do it with Z-Pak, subject to your doctor's approval and all of that. But I hope they use it, because I'll tell you what: What do you have to lose? In some cases, they're in bad shape," President Trump told reporters at a recent coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to surge, scientists around the world are racing to develop effective treatments — and hydroxychloroquine has taken center stage. But experts have cautioned against using the drug without more evidence it works for COVID-19.
"Hydroxychloroquine is an FDA-approved treatment for lupus and for rheumatoid arthritis and a few other indications. But it's anti-inflammatory-type medicine. It's not going to clear the virus. It's not going to cure COVID-19. It may help with some symptoms in certain people. However, again, there have not been appropriate studies done," said Dr. Katherine Seley-Radtke, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, specializing in discovery and development of antiviral drugs.
Some scientists say the drug, which has been used for over 60 years to treat malaria and several autoimmune diseases, is an appealing option mainly because it's an off-the-shelf drug with various low-cost generics available. Companies know how to produce it, and information on potential side effects is readily available.
"There are a number of already-approved drugs that are being looked at for repurposing for COVID. That's the first thing you do whenever a new emerging virus comes about, is you look to the cupboard to see what is there and what might work," said Seley-Radtke.
Whether hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating the coronavirus remains unknown, though clinical trials are underway. Small studies suggest the drug may be useful in treating patients with mild cases of COVID-19, but more research is needed. Still, a number of hospitals are using the unproven medicine to treat patients.
As Newsy previously reported, demand for hydroxychloroquine surged in recent weeks, leading to hoarding and shortages. Patients who rely on the medication to treat chronic diseases are worried they won't be able to refill their prescriptions. And people are self-medicating with fatal results.
Experts say people shouldn't rush to use hydroxychloroquine to fend off the new coronavirus.
"People shouldn't self-medicate no matter what. You need to have a doctor's advice and your doctor needs to be able to assess the risk. Everybody that I know in the antiviral field, including myself, are working day and night to try to find answers for this, but you also don't want people dying because of ill-advised, indiscriminate use of something," said Seley-Radtke.
Contains footage from CNN.