By CBS4 Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – When President Donald Trump announced this week that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine, it reignited the debate over the whether the medication has a place in the everyday prevention and treatment of coronavirus. The answer to that remains unknown, but like dozens of other treatments, it continues to be studied.

There is research going on today at more than 40 medical centers across the country to see if hydroxychloroquine is a safe and effective treatment in seriously ill patients.  There is also a study going on in New York where medical professionals who have high rates of exposure to COVID-19 patients are taking the drug to see if it can prevent them from catching the virus.

The conclusion to this point: it is not proven to be an effective treatment, and its effectiveness as a prevention is unknown. In other words, it’s not yet a “game changer.”

Yet as you’ve heard, one of the biggest issues with hydroxychloroquine is its safety, especially when it comes to the heart, triggering life threatening irregular heart rhythms in some people. Therefore, you just can’t prescribe this medication like a couple of Tylenols.

Which is why the FDA gave emergency authorization on April 24 for use of hydroxychloroquine in only a hospital setting, or in an official clinical trial.

So that’s the science. And that’s the hope. You have a serious pandemic, no vaccine, so you study as many options as possible and hope to find treatments that are both safe and effective without causing harm.

As for claims and assumptions, we don’t prescribe this or any drug based on thinking such as:

We’ve heard good things about it.

Or we’ve heard many, many people are taking it.

Or even a lot of doctors take this.

And finally, it’s been around for a long time so it’s not going to hurt anyone.

Back to the science for a second on this one. When it comes to hydroxychloroquine, the Physician’s Drug Reference lists more than 90 possible side effects. Not all common, not all serious. But enough concern that people with autoimmune diseases such as Lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis who take hydroxychloroquine are monitored with blood tests and eye exams.

And while the use of any medication is a joint decision between patient and doctor, especially since ALL medications have side effects, this announcement does not give a scientific green light for America to be asking for hydroxychloroquine for treatment or prevention.

As for the reason for this blog a day after the news, I was looking to see how many patients would ask me for hydroxychloroquine today. The answer: five.  Not a scientific study, but a simple observation on how some people react to what they hear.

Dr. Dave Hnida