Chloroquine or Plaquenil: What is it and can it really treat coronavirus?

Coronavirus patients are dying to stay alive.

That’s what happened when one man, infected with COVID-19, decided to self-medicate with chloroquine phosphate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chloroquine phosphate, or simply chloroquine, along with its analog hydrochloroquine (brand name Plaquenil), are anti-parasite, anti-inflammatory drugs used to prevent or treat parasitic infections, namely malaria, as well as autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The powerful additive is also commonly found in fish tank cleaner, according to Arizona’s Banner Health hospital, where the man was treated before his untimely death.

Despite President Trump’s earnest recommendation of the drug — which has proven to be an effective treatment for some — in press conferences and on Twitter, medical experts are urging consumers and coronavirus patients to consult a doctor before taking chloroquine phosphate (also called Aralen) as it could cause serious complications and death in patients with certain pre-existing ailments. Fatal overdoses have also been recently documented in Nigeria.

“@WHO has NOT approved the use of chloroquine for #COVID19 management,” tweeted the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. “Scientists are working hard to confirm the safety of several drugs for this disease. Please DO NOT engage in self-medication. This will cause harm and can lead to death.”

“The combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat the coronavirus has not been proven safe and effective through large scale clinical trials,” wrote Dr. Eugene Gu to his nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter. “Promising them as miracle drugs gives false hope.”

Anecdotal evidence has suggested a combination of hydrochloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin (also known as Z-Pak) may have “potential for benefit in patients who are hospitalized with coronavirus,” says Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy based in Kansas City, Missouri. That may explain why the drugs have worked wonders for some, such as “Lost” actor Daniel Dae Kim, who (perhaps irresponsibly) took to social media to sing its praises.

But DiNicolantonio and other physicians warn that the drug cocktail could be lethal for patients with underlying heart conditions.

“When you combine both those medications, you get an increase in [time between heartbeats, called] QT prolongation, and a potential increased risk of arrhythmias,” DiNicolantonio tells The Post. “Thus, at a minimum, a baseline EKG [electrocardiogram] should be performed prior to prescribing the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, chloroquine has also been known to cause “life-threatening” hypoglycemia, “irreversible” damage to the retina and neurologic disorders. And, in the hands of children, even small doses may be lethal.

Furthermore, the mad rush to get hold of these drugs is causing significant shortages among pharmacies and drug manufacturers, which may put lives at risk, particularly in those who rely on these drugs to treat life-threatening conditions, such as lupus.

That’s why it’s critical to speak with a doctor familiar with your medical history before taking any prescription drug, experts say.

“We don’t have large long-term clinical trials to know for sure if this combination works,” says DiNicolantonio. “We need to be careful about who we give it to and not waste the little supply that is currently available.”

Amid an eruption of public interest in chloroquine, its New Jersey-based manufacturer Rising Pharmaceuticals has slashed the cost of the drug “in half,” reported StatNews, after briefly raising prices by 98% between December 2019 and January 2020 — before experts were considering the drug for treatment of the coronavirus.

“Once this whole issue started to explode with regard to the pandemic, we implemented a price decrease to effectively revert back to 2015 pricing across all customers,” said the drug manufacturer’s COO, Ira Baeringer, who later added that they’d implement another 20% decrease. Drug giant Bayer, too, recently announced that they’d donate 3 million tablets of chloroquine phosphate to the government.

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