Some San Diego Hospitals Scaling Back Use of Drug Touted By President

Despite warnings from health experts, some local hospitals continue to use the medication to treat COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis

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President Donald Trump praised its potential as a cure for COVID-19, but hospitals throughout San Diego County are reducing the use of hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients. This comes after numerous health experts, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, issued warnings about the drug’s use.

But use of the drug, which is used to treat those with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, malaria, among other conditions, quickly increased after the President touted it as a potential COVID-19 “game-changer.” Soon after, supplies of the prescription drug depleted and patients who use the drug on a regular basis were left without the much-needed medication.

In the weeks following the President’s announcement, health experts gave warnings about potentially dangerous side-effects from hydroxychloroquine. One study by the Department of Veteran Affairs found more COVID-19 patients died after taking the drug, compared to those who received standard care.

Some who were given the drug, however, appear satisfied.

“I’m not in the medical profession,” said Mike Minjares, a San Carlos man who was infected with COVID-19.

Minjares took hydroxychloroquine and other drugs while receiving care at Kaiser’s Zion Hospital in Grantville.

“I don't know what is required and what they should be doing,” he said earlier this month. “I was trusting my doctors, my nursing staff, to do what they thought was in my best interest. They said do you want to try an experimental drug that typically treats malaria and we are seeing some good results for COVID? I was 100 percent for it.”

NBC 7 Investigates reported earlier this month that three healthcare providers in San Diego County -- Sharp, Scripps Health, and Kaiser Permanente -- were prescribing hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients.

Earlier this month, Kaiser Permanente told lupus patients, and others receiving hydroxychloroquine that due to COVID-19, they were facing a shortage of the drug. But on Tuesday, a spokesperson said supplies have “moderately increased,” and that lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients are now able to get a 30-day supply of the drug, instead of a 14-day supply which was imposed earlier this month.

Kaiser said it was still prescribing the drug to COVID-19 patients on a case-by-case basis.

At Sharp Healthcare, a spokesperson now says they are reducing the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatments.

“Our utilization of hydroxychloroquine has fallen back to pre-COVID numbers, over the past 10 days,” said spokesperson Jennifer Chatfield.

A spokesperson at Scripps Health told NBC 7 Investigates that doctors are using the drug on a  case-by-case basis, and the use of the drug for COVID-19 patients hasn’t changed.

In sharp contrast to those three healthcare providers, UC San Diego Health workers have said they will not use the drug to treat COVID-19.

“Without solid information about whether or not it works, it was and is hard for us to endorse,” Dr. Charles Daniels at UC San Diego Health said earlier this month.

Daniels said he does not rule out the drug’s benefits in treating those sickened with coronavirus, but says more studies are needed before using it on patients, something that likely can’t be accomplished until after the pandemic is over.

“I wouldn't use hydroxychloroquine on, or recommend it for, family members,” added Daniels. “I would recommend that they participate in an option to be able to look at some of the other drugs that seem to be more likely to be effective.”

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