An Arizona man has died and in his wife is in critical condition after ingesting a drug that Donald Trump claimed could be used to treat COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, despite a lack of scientific evidence. The man and woman were both in their 60s when they ingested chloroquine phosphate, a chemical that is commonly used to clean fish tanks and can also be used as a malaria drug. Within half an hour, the couple began to experience serious symptoms and had to go to a Banner Health emergency room in Phoenix.
“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” Dr. Daniel Brooks, the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, said in a press statement on Monday. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”
In a live TV appearance last week, Trump alarmed medical professionals when he brought up the fact that some doctors are testing the hazardous drug to see if it can be used to help treat COVID-19. No scientific medical studies have confirmed that it is effective against the virus, and Trump repeatedly brushed aside the need for testing before using chloroquine.
“Why should we be testing it in a test tube for a year and a half when we have thousands of people that are very sick, and we can use it on those people and maybe make them better?” Trump said on live television.
Trump followed up on Saturday by tweeting that the drug could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and that the FDA should “move mountains” to approve it for treatment of COVID-19.
CNN reported today that after Trump’s claims, three people in Nigeria were hospitalized for chloroquine poisoning, prompting that country’s government to issue warnings against using it to treat COVID-19. On Sunday, Charles Ornstein reported in ProPublica that Trump’s comments “triggered a run on the drug,” leaving lupus patients and others who rely on it without necessary medications.
In the Banner Health press release announcing the incident in Phoenix on Monday, Brooks urged medical professionals not to recklessly prescribe chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
“We are strongly urging the medical community to not prescribe this medication to any non-hospitalized patients,” said Brooks.
You can see an interactive, county-by-county map of COVID-19 infections in the Deep South states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina at dsv.news/covid19.