Prescriptions for anti-malarial drugs rose from February to March 2020, according to the data published in a research letter by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Researchers saw an 86.2% increase in the number of prescriptions for anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine from February to March, at a time the drugs were remained unproven. Hydroxychloroquine prescriptions soared from 367,346 to 683,999 prescriptions.
Hydroxychloroquine is known for treating malaria and rheumatoid conditions like arthritis. The drug became a hype earlier in the year after some studies suggested that Covid-19 patients could benefit from taking it.
On the other hand, dispensed chloroquine prescriptions rose by 158.6%, from 2,346 to 6,066 prescriptions.
The combination of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin had been touted as a possible coronavirus treatment.
Findings revealed a 1,044% increased in the estimated number of patients taking both drugs between February and March, from 8,885 to 101,681.
Research showed that prescription rates for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were continuous from October 2019 through February 2020. The analysis explored data through March.
Meanwhile, the authors stressed that the rise in the number of prescriptions for anti-malarial drugs may not be caused by Covid-19 alone, as their data did cover the reasons why the drugs were prescribed.
Still, the researchers emphasize the link between sudden increased of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine prescriptions and availability for patients prescribed the drugs for uses approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These include treating rheumatoid arthritis, malaria, and lupus.
The FDA announced that it would withdraw its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for coronavirus on June 15.
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were initially touted as cure for coronavirus based on initial laboratory analyses. Also, President Donald Trump repeatedly expressed his support for the use of the drug, describing it as “very encouraging” and “very powerful” and a “game-changer.”
However, recent studies of Covid-19 patients showed that the drugs have largely not presented what the world expects. The National Institutes of Health stopped a randomized clinical trial after determining the lack of benefits hydroxychloroquine could give to coronavirus patients.
“While there was no harm, the study drug was very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients with Covid-19,” the NIH said in a June 20 news release.
The FDA found that the drug is “unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19” and mentioned its side effects including serious heart rhythm problems.
Meanwhile, Southeast Michigan’s Henry Ford Health System made an announcement last week about taking hydroxychloroquine. Their research showed that patients who were given hydroxychloroquine were much less likely to die. However, other researchers were hesitant about supporting such observcation.
“The totality of the evidence is so much on the side of the drug not having an effect. The vast majority of studies are in very close agreement about that,” said Dr. Neil Schluger, chairman of the department of medicine at New York Medical College.
Schluger and other researchers stressed the issues in the Henry Ford team’s analysis that may shaped the positive data. These include that decreased mortality could have been an achivement of more skilled doctors treating Covid-19 patients.
“Obviously, we would all love to have treatments that work for this disease,” Schluger said. “But I think we still have to wait.”
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