DETROIT – When experts issued a warning about hydroxychloroquine last week, many people interpreted it as the drug being prevented, but that’s not the case. Doctors are using it in certain coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, but they’re emphasizing that it has to be used responsibly and cleared by medical experts.
The drug Plaquenil is under investigation as a possible treatment for COVID-19, but it’s attracted more controversy for Michiganders.
UPDATE -- MARCH 30, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 6,498; Death toll now at 184
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is facing some criticism for cracking down on inappropriate prescribing of the medication.
As a physician, Dr. Frank McGeorge received the same notice that went out from the Bureau of Licensing last week. It was a reminder about responsible prescribing of hydroxychloroquine.
The notice specifically warned against hoarding or stockpiling, in particular because it would create shortages for those who have certain auto-immune problems and need the drug.
The letter didn’t prevent appropriate use, although some people seem to have interpreted it that way.
Doctors and hospitals treating patients with severe COVID-19 aren’t dismissing the possibility that hydroxychloroquine might be beneficial, and most are using it on COVID-19 positive patients, especially the more severe cases.
Doctors said that’s because the potential benefit, which remains completely unknown right now, outweighs the harm in severe cases.
The risk-benefit judgement isn’t the same if people start trying it on a large scale for prevention or treatment of minor cases. At this point, because the benefit is unknown and there is a small but measurable risk of dangerous side effects, it should not be used broadly, according to experts.
Carefully controlled clinical trials are underway to evaluate potential benefits, but until they’re done, use should be preserved for people with diseases in which it has a proven benefit and coronavirus cases in which there’s no hardm in trying.
Sandoz, the manufacturer of Plaquenil, has donated 30 million doses of the drug to the Strategic National Stockpile as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients.