WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said he’s finished taking his regimen of hydroxychloroquine, a controversial drug he’s promoted as a treatment for the coronavirus despite warnings from his own U.S. Food and Drug Administration and medical professionals about its effectiveness and potentially dangerous side effects.
“Finished, just finished,” Trump said in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast’s program Full Measure With Sharyl Attkisson that aired on Sunday. “And by the way, I’m still here. To the best of my knowledge, here I am.”
The president has promoted hydroxychloroquine, an FDA-approved drug used to treat malaria as well as autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as a “game-changer.” There is little evidence that hydroxychloroquine has been effective to treat or prevent the coronavirus.
The FDA has cautioned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a related drug, for COVID-19 treatment outside of hospitals or clinical trials due to the risk of life-threatening heart problems.
Trump’s comments came as a new study showed COVID-19 patients who took hydroxychloroquine had a higher risk of death than those who were not given the drug. The study, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, also found that COVID-19 patients were more likely to develop serious heart arrhythmias if treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.
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Arrhythmias can lead to sudden cardiac death, according to researchers, but the report did not associate the study’s fatalities with adverse cardiac effects.
The study found a 34% increase in the risk of mortality and a 137% increase in the risk of serious heart arrhythmia for patients who were given hydroxychloroquine. Patients who received hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, similar to the regimen Trump said he was taking, saw a 411% increase in the risk of serious heart arrhythmias.
Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine even as some of his own health experts have warned of its risks. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, pointed to the FDA warning about the use of the drug to treat COVID-19 when asked about the recent Lancet study.
US President Donald Trump answers a questions during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the White House on March 24, 2020, in Washington, DC.
“I think the FDA has been very clear on their website about their concerns about hydroxychloroquine, particularly when it’s combined with a macrolide,” she told reporters Friday at a White House press briefing, referring to a class of antibiotics such as azithromycin – a course of treatment similar to the one the president was taking.
The president continued to defend the use of the drug on Sunday, telling Attkisson hydroxychloroquine had “rave reviews” and “many people think it saved their lives.”
“I believe in it enough that I took a program because I had two people in the White House that tested positive,” he said. “But hydroxy has had tremendous, if you look at it, tremendous, rave reviews.
Trump revealed last week he had been taking the drug daily along with zinc and an initial dose of azithromycin as an added measure to avoid getting the coronavirus. His revelation came after two aides tested positive for COVID-19 and three members of the coronavirus task force entered quarantine over concerns they attended meetings with one of the staff members diagnosed with the virus.
The White House subsequently tightened safety measures including mandating COVID-19 tests for anyone who comes in close proximity with the president while all West Wing staff are required to wear masks except while at their desks.
During Sunday’s interview, the president also escalated a war of words with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming he wasn’t “mentally qualified” for the job and was “a disaster.” Trump appointed Sessions to the role in 2017 but has long blamed the former attorney general for his recusal that opened the door for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.
“He’s not mentally qualified to be attorney general,” Trump said. “He was the biggest problem. I mean, look Jeff Sessions put people in place that were a disaster.”
The pair traded barbs over the weekend after Trump urged Alabamans to “not trust Jeff Sessions” in a tweet Friday, writing that he “let our Country down.”
Sessions, a former Alabama senator who left the Trump administration in late 2018, is running for his old seat and is facing a runoff for the Republican nomination against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Sessions has sought to embrace Trump in the race, despite the president’s repeated recriminations.
‘You should drop out’: Trump spars with ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions amid battle for Alabama Senate seat
Contributing: John Fritze
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Trump says he finished taking hydroxychloroquine