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Trump draws experts' backlash for using controversial medicine

Trump draws experts' backlash for using controversial medicine
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE’s declaration that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine to guard against the coronavirus has drawn a swift backlash from health experts and stirred debate about how best to keep the president healthy amid the pandemic.

The White House has provided few specifics about Trump’s consumption of the anti-malaria drug, breeding skepticism about whether he’s actually taking it. But medical experts raised alarms about the potential consequences if Trump is ingesting it and the risk that some Americans may pursue a similar strategy despite risks to their health.

“There is no evidence for hydroxychloroquine being effective for treating or preventing COVID-19,” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore.

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“Public officials should not be disseminating information about unproven treatments,” she added. “Instead, we should all emphasize the preventive measures that are effective, like wearing masks and keeping physical distancing.”

The White House on Tuesday simultaneously sought to defend Trump’s decision while cautioning that it was an individual one that Americans should only follow if they’ve consulted with a doctor.

Vice President Pence said he’s not taking hydroxychloroquine but that he “would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News that taking hydroxychloroquine “has to be in consultation with your doctor,” while Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the decision to take any drug is between a patient and their doctor.

Trump said he plans to stay on the drug for “a little while longer” and that he has yet to experience any negative effects. The president told reporters after attending a Senate GOP lunch that “people are going to have to make up their own mind” about the drug.

“I think it gives you an additional level of safety,” Trump said, downplaying warnings that the drug can cause heart problems in certain patients and dismissing studies that showed it had no benefit for patients hospitalized with coronavirus.

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“This is an individual decision to make,” he added. “But it’s had a great reputation and if it was somebody else other than me people would say, ‘Gee, isn’t that smart.’ ”

Hydroxychloroquine is frequently used to prevent malaria and treat lupus. The FDA approved it for off-label use in late March, allowing doctors to prescribe it for coronavirus patients. But the FDA issued a warning roughly a month later that the drug should not be taken outside of a hospital or clinical setting because of the risk of developing heart rhythm problems.

The White House has provided few specifics about Trump’s intake of the drug. Trump brought it up unprompted during a lengthy back-and-forth with reporters on Monday, revealing he had already been taking it for more than a week.

McEnany told Fox News on Tuesday that she didn’t have any information about Trump’s rationale for taking the drug, other than to say it was a “personal deliberation” with the White House physician.

A letter from White House physician Sean Conley released late Monday indicated he and Trump discussed the pros and cons of taking the drug after one of the president’s personal valets tested positive for coronavirus.

Conley wrote that he and Trump concluded “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.” But the letter did not explicitly state that Conley had prescribed hydroxychloroquine or offer any details on what dosage Trump is taking.

The White House has generally been tight-lipped in sharing details of the president’s health. That, paired with the sparse physician’s note on Monday, has spurred questions about whether he is in fact taking hydroxychloroquine.

Trump’s declaration that he is doing so aligns with his tendency amid the pandemic to pursue health practices contrary to the latest guidance: He got tested for coronavirus hours after his doctor issued a letter stating it wasn’t necessary; he urged officials to look into the injection of disinfectant as a potential treatment and he has refused to wear a mask despite an order compelling those around him to do so.

“He’s the consummate troll, right?” said one former administration official who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “I believe he heard from three people who told him, ‘Yeah it works, yeah it’s good.’ And he takes first-person anecdotes as being gospel more so than large scientific opinions. That’s just who he is. He’s always been that way.”

Trump spent weeks in March and April hyping the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine before studies had determined whether there was a proven medical benefit. He repeatedly implored Americans to ask themselves what they had to lose in taking the drug, touting it as a “game-changer” in the search for a treatment for the virus.

The government stockpiled millions of pills of the drug, leading to shortages for lupus patients who needed it.

Some initial smaller studies from Europe showed success treating patients with the drug, and Trump has cited first-hand accounts from front-line health care workers who he said swear by the drug. But enthusiasm has since dampened as further trials cast doubt on its efficacy and raised concerns about dangerous side effects.

A study released in April showed no benefit for patients in an analysis of those hospitalized in Veterans Health Administration medical centers. The study found the two primary outcomes for COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were death and the need for mechanical ventilation.

Another report in April from doctors in New York found 84 patients given hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin developed heart rhythm problems, though none died from cardiac issues.

Trump is 73, is considered overweight and takes cholesterol medication, according to information from his most recent physical evaluation. The lack of a clear benefit from hydroxychloroquine has left experts puzzled why he would add unnecessary risk to his daily routine, particularly at a time when other precautions are already in place.

“They’re testing everyone who comes into contact with him. They’re testing him very regularly,” Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s previous FDA commissioner, said Tuesday on CNBC. “So I would hope that even if there was a drug that could provide some prophylactic value, some preventative value, the president himself wouldn’t need to use it because he’d be in a bubble. He’d be well protected.

“Now, obviously he made an independent decision with his physician about what to do,” Gottlieb added. “I just hope they’re protecting him very well in terms of his exposure to this virus.”