The drug hydroxychloroquine, pressed by U.S. President Donald Trump and others in recent months as a possible treatment for people infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), appears at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, May 27, 2020.
George Frey | Reuters
US prescriptions for malaria drug hydroxychloroquine rose nearly 2,000% in March when President Donald Trump first marketed the drug as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, according to a new study published in JAMA.
During the week of March 1
The researchers said that prescriptions of 28 to 60 days and 61 plus days commonly used by people with chronic conditions such as Lupus jumped 179% and 182%, respectively, during that week. They said that there were a total of 483,425 excess prescription refills of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine during the 10 weeks from February 16 to April 25, which were investigated by the study.
The results come a week after a study published in medical journal The Lancet found that Covid-19 patients treated in hospitals treated with hydroxychloroquine had a higher risk of death than those who did not.
Patients taking the drug or chloroquine from which hydroxychloroquine originated were also more likely to develop irregular heartbeats, according to the study, which looked at more than 96,000 patients from 671 hospitals across six continents.
Trump first mentioned the drug during a press conference at the White House on March 19 and has been touting the drug since.
Earlier this month, Trump said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine daily for over a week to prevent coronavirus infection despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration that it could cause serious heart problems.
Hydroxychloroquine is also often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Many clinical trials look to see if it is effective in the fight against coronavirus, but it is not a proven treatment.
Hydroxychloroquine is known to have serious side effects, including muscle weakness and heart rhythm. A small study in Brazil was stopped for safety reasons after patients with coronavirus taking chloroquine developed arrhythmia, including some who died.
France said on Wednesday it banned the use of the potential treatment. On Monday, the World Health Organization said it temporarily suspended its hydroxychloroquine trial for safety concerns.
The researchers said they used US pharmacy data from 58,332 chains, independent pharmacies and mail orders for more than 14,000 zip codes in all 50 states.