Concerns around anti-malaria drug use for COVID-19

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — Hydroxychloroquine is in trials, but hasn’t been approved to treat COVID-19.

President Donald Trump has been promoting the drug as treatment for the novel coronavirus.

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The anit-malaria drug is mainly used for patients with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, to treat their pain.

“This wasn’t a drug that was widely used before this happened,” says UK College of Pharmacy Associate Dean Dr. Frank Romanelli.

But now, it’s getting an awful lot of attention beyond its usual use.

“It does appear to have some anti-viral activity so when the whole COVID-19 came on the scene, people were looking for drugs to test and the logical thing was ‘let’s look at hydroxycloroquine’,” says Dr. Romanelli.

Romanelli says there’s anecdotal evidence it’s effective, but it hasn’t been demonstrated in randomized control clinical trials which he says is the golden ticket.

“The drug theoretically reduces the ability of the virus to replicate inside cells. If the virus can’t replicate inside cells then you get fewer viral particles and the infection kind of gets fenced it a little bit,” explains Dr. Romanelli.

He says an initial trial showed those on the drug cleared the virus quicker than those not on it.

Even though his own experts have cautioned against advocating for an unproven drug use, the president claims it cures the virus.

“We’ve had some unbelievable results, unbelievable results, and it also gives the people hope,” says President Trump.

Enough hope, there’s been an increase in demand.

We spoke on the phone with pharmacists who say they’re struggling to keep the drug on their shelves, the demand is that great.

There are fears people might be hoarding it.

“We have seen across the country people trying to access the medicine and almost every Board of Pharmacy in the U.S. including Kentucky has put some restrictions on prescribing of the drug,” says Romanelli.

There have also been reports in other states of drug makers freezing refills for those who really need it, like those with Lupus and arthritis.

If they can’t get hydroxychloroquine, Romanelli says their diseases won’t be as well-controlled.

“It’s controlling the pain associated with Lupus or with arthritis and if they can’t get access to the drug then their disease will flare,” says Romanelli.

He says hopefully, the restrictions placed around it will make sure they never have to experience that.