According to a study published in JAMA on Monday, July 6, 2020, in the US Hydroxychloroquine prescriptions increased by 86% within a month after it was declared by conservative commentators and President Donald Trump as a possible “gift from heaven” for the treatment of COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine’s approval against COVID-19 did not last in the US
This old medicine, used to treat malaria and diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is undoubtedly the most politicized of the pandemic, defended passionately at the beginning of the epidemic by the French doctor Didier Raoult and in the United States by supporters of Donald Trump and Fox News moderators.
It was the first drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an emergency drug at the end of March, but it has since lost that approval after warnings were issued about side effects on the heart and after larger studies showed it was not effective against COVID-19. France banned it for COVID-19 patients at the end of May.
However, before the specific American approval for hospital use, doctors in the US were free to prescribe it for any condition, which is the case for medicines approved in the United States. Many apparently did so at the request of their patients, probably as a preventive measure.
Two drug therapy advocated by Donald Trump
The number of Americans prescribed with hydroxychloroquine increased 86% between February and March 2020, from about 367,000 to 684,000, according to billing data from 48,900 American pharmacies, covering almost the entire market. For chloroquine, the increase was 159%, but this affected very few patients, about 6,000.
The data show that the “cocktail” promoted by Didier Raoult, namely hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, generated an extraordinary demand: from 8,000 patients in February taking the two drugs together, they increased to over 100,000 within a month, an increase of 1,044%. This double therapy was advocated in particular by Donald Trump in a tweet on March 21, citing a very small study by Didier Raoult, who was strongly criticized for his methodology.