March 24, 2020

Poison Center issues warning about anti-malarial drugs to fight COVID-19

Recent reports have suggested the use of chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19. This has led to buying and use of these drugs by the general public and a large amount of compassionate use by physicians outside of clinical trials.

The data supporting their use is limited to lab data based on SARS-CoV response, anecdotal reports and underpowered studies that did not consider many other factors. Some of these studies were released prior to peer review.

The unfortunate downside to this is a life-threatening shortage of the drug for those people who need it to live and an increasing number of people inadvertently overdosing resulting in unnecessary use of intensive care units and ventilators, assuming they survive.

We do not know at this time if these drugs are effective. The only way to determine this is through well-designed clinical trials, which are in progress.

These are not benign drugs, and they can cause significant illness with permanent damage or death if not taken in the correct dose and manner.  They have very potent drug interactions, and even if taken correctly may cause toxicity when administered together with many other drugs, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, HIV medications, anitfungal agents, heart rhythm medications, buprenorphine and many others.  When taken with azithromycin, an antibiotic, the cardiac toxicity may be even worse.

Please do not request these medications from your physician or buy them on the Internet.  There is already a huge shortage for those who need to take them to live due to other medical conditions.

If you do take chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, call the Poison Center (800-222-1222) or seek immediate medical care if you develop ringing in your ears, difficulty seeing, nausea and vomiting, turning blue, lightheadedness, palpitations, slow heart rate, confusion, shakiness, seizures, trouble breathing or passing out.

Media contact: Cynthia Aaron, M.D. - 313-437-9814