Move Follows New Studies That Showed Poor ResultsBy Brian Maass

(CBS4) – As a senior medical director for a nationwide health care delivery company, Evergreen-based internist Dr. Kenneth Cohen has been closely watching developments regarding hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to treat malaria, lupus and arthritis but more recently showing some promise for treating coronavirus.

Cohen says based on three new small studies, he is now recommending his hospital doctors not use hydroxychloroquine, also known as plaquenil, for patients suffering from COVID-19.

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“Hydroxychloroquine in addition to being ineffective appears to be harmful and there’s no beneficial effect and a clear sign emerging that it can cause true patient harm.”

The medication gained prominence after a French researcher touted its effectiveness against coronavirus and after President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed the medication as a potential “game changer” during numerous news conferences.

“And there are signs that it works on (coronavirus), some very strong signs,” said Trump at one. “What do you have to lose? And a lot of people are saying that, and are taking it.”

But new trials and studies are now showing hydroxychloroquine may be useless in fighting COVID-19 and in fact may be harmful.

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Cohen cites a recent study of 368 military veterans which showed the medication did not show any overall effectiveness for sick coronavirus patients.

“And that trial showed that the mortality in the hydroxychloroquine group was 260% higher than the non-hydroxychloroquine group,” said Cohen, who also serves as Chief Medical Officer for New West Physicians.

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As a result of that and two smaller trials, Cohen said, “Based on this new literature we’re recommending to our hospitalists to no longer use hydroxychloroquine.”

hydroxychloroquine

(credit: CBS)

The medication had been used routinely in hospitals since the pandemic began.

“We have enough new information now that the recommendation is to not use it,” said Cohen.

Dr. Constantine Tsamasfyros, a family medicine physician in Denver, told CBS4 in early April he had been prescribing hydroxychloroquine to sick coronavirus patients and it seemed to work.

He told CBS4 he was aware of the new study results, but would continue to prescribe it anyway.

“This is a life or death situation if a patient cannot breathe?!! Yes, utilize if no alternative. We are awaiting good studies. Everything coming out recently has no backup,” said Tsamasfyrios. ”There is minimal danger of arrhythmias or deaths.”

This week, a panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended doctors not use a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for the treatment of COVID-19 patients because of potential toxicities. However, when it came to using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone, the panel said there was “insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against.”

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Cohen said he would not recommend the use of hydroxychloroquine outside of a randomized clinical trial.

Brian Maass