FDA says anti-malarial drug used to treat COVID-19 should be choice of patient and doctor

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Hydroxychloroquine is FDA approved to treat and prevent malaria, lupus and arthritis.

Some claim it might be helpful in treating COVID-19, although a recent study indicates it could do more harm than good.

In April, the FDA warned patients against taking hydroxychlroquine outside a hospital or formal clinical trial.

Now, they're reporting that the decision to take the drug for COVID-19 or other non-FDA approved reasons is up to the patient and their doctor.

Hydroxychloroquine is approved and most commonly used as an anti-malarial drug.

However, Doctors say the medication has been shown to benefit the immune system in patients with SARS, a coronavirus in the same family as COVID-19, and other infectious diseases.

"When COVID-19 came around, they decided to look at efficacy against COVID-19 and they did in cell culture find some antiviral activity," said Field Medical Officer for the ND Dept of Health and Leader of the COVID-19 Physician Advisory Group Joan Connell.

President Donald Trump endorsed the use of the drug for COVID-19 in his White House briefings.

But, the FDA warned against its use outside of the hospital. A study reported Friday by medical journal the Lancet linked the drug to heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19.

The President said the findings were influenced by circumstances such as age and complications of illness.

"...it seems to be very safe. But that study was a phony study put out by the VA," said President Donald Trump.

While there's no evidence suggesting the study's inauracy, pharmacists say there was a temporary shortage due to a surge in demand.

"There was a panic that pharmacies wouldn't be able to get it. So, they depleted the wholesalers rapidly. So, the wholesalers had a shortage just to replenish," said Pharmacist and Owner of Mayo Pharmacy Kevin Martian.

On Monday President Trump reported that he'd been taking hydroxychloroquine for a week as a preventative measure.

Tuesday, the FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn announced that the choice to take the drug was up to the patient and their provider.

This, contrasting their earlier release and seemingly embracing the drug through "off-label" prescriptions.

"'Off-label' prescriptions are medications that we use to treat certain diseases in a way that has not been studied and approved by the FDA," Connell said.

Dr. Joan Connell says this isn't the first drug to be used in "off label prescriptions." She says doctors do this with other medications quite often.

Martian says the hydroxychlorine supply has gone back to normal.

He says he currently has no issues ordering it for his pharmacy.