STAT’s Andrew Joseph writes that even before President Trump started plugging chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as Covid-19 treatments, enthusiasm for the old malaria drugs was swelling in the state of Utah.
The “stunning medications” led to “responses that are equivalent to Lazarus” — the Biblical figure brought back to life by Jesus — one physician said at an event at the state Capitol. The deputy director of the state health department, even as he acknowledged there was not “FDA-type of evidence” showing the drugs worked, said he was willing to put stock in case reports and “test tube evidence.”
Propelled by that hype, as well as mounting fears of the oncoming pandemic, the state pursued a sweeping — and eyebrow-raising — policy that would have let pharmacies dispense the unproven medications to patients with Covid-19 without a prescription. Utah, which took perhaps the most aggressive strategy with the drugs of any state, also put in an order for $800,000 worth of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to build a stockpile and considered buying millions of dollars more.
The state did all of that without any rigorous evidence the drugs can help patients recover faster from Covid-19. Clinical trials that will answer that question are ongoing, but recent observational studies have cast doubt on an effect. And in the weeks since Utah’s efforts to promote and procure the drugs, the Food and Drug Administration has warned they should not be taken for Covid-19 outside a hospital or a clinical trial, citing “reports of serious heart rhythm problems.”
Utah eventually abandoned its plans to make the drugs available without prescriptions and canceled its order.