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Federal agencies warn about untested COVID-19 drugs Trump touts

Warnings come after Trump's comments about the power of disinfectant or light to kill coronavirus are rebuked

Trump makes remarks to the media after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on March 10.
Trump makes remarks to the media after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on March 10. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Food and Drug Administration warned Friday against the risk of irregular heart rhythms from the use of anti-malaria drugs President Donald Trump touted, a day after he made controversial comments — which scientists quickly rebuked — incorrectly suggesting that disinfectant injected into patients or light could kill COVID-19.

The president has repeatedly hyped the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible COVID-19 treatment despite no conclusive evidence that the drug is successful for this purpose. Recent preliminary studies found little evidence that it should be used to treat the coronavirus and indicated it could be connected to a higher death rate.

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The FDA issued the warning against using hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, for other than for their intended purposes, which are primarily to treat malaria and, in some cases, lupus and arthritis.

The drugs can have severe side effects including heart rhythm problems and even death, the FDA warned. Those risks could be mitigated when used in a hospital or clinical trial under close medical supervision, officials said. 

“We understand that health care professionals are looking for every possible treatment option for their patients and we want to ensure we’re providing them with the appropriate information needed for them to make the best medical decisions,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn. “FDA will continue to monitor and investigate these potential risks and will communicate publicly when more information is available.”

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The warning comes as other federal agencies and officials have issued public statements at odds with Trump’s comments related to treatment and prevention of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

During the White House’s daily coronavirus task force briefing Thursday, the president touted powerful chemicals like bleach as an “interesting” avenue to explore for medicine, a point that was immediately slammed by medical experts as dangerous.

He continued by speculating on the power of light.

“So we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s — that’s pretty powerful,” the president said.

But by Friday, the White House had walked back Trump’s comments on “experimental” treatments.

“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing. Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

At least two other agencies issued warnings Friday against individuals testing therapeutics for COVID-19 without a medical professional’s guidance.

“A reminder to all Americans- PLEASE always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one. Your safety is paramount, and doctors and nurses are have years of training to recommend what’s safe and effective,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted Friday.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a similar warning against ingesting products like bleach.

“Cleaning products are poisonous, America! Make sure you keep those cleaning products in their original bottles and locked up out of sight and out of reach of kids!” the agency tweeted and attributed it to its mascot, Quinn the Quarantine Fox.

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