Trump claims to be taking unproven drug treatment for coronavirus after FDA raises safety concerns

"I've taken it for about a week and a half, and I'm still here," Trump reveals during a press conference

Published May 18, 2020 7:18PM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Chloroquine Phosphate (AP Photo/Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump | Chloroquine Phosphate (AP Photo/Getty Images/Salon)

President Donald Trump claims that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine daily as a preventive treatment for COVID-19, despite FDA warnings against doing so outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial due to a risk of heart rhythm problems.

"I've taken it for about a week and a half, and I'm still here," Trump, the oldest president in U.S. history, told reporters during a Monday afternoon press conference.

Research has repeatedly found that the drug offers no measurable benefit to COVID-19 patients. Preventive benefits are unclear.

Hydroxychloroquine can increase one's risk of death and lead to serious and sometimes fatal heart problems, especially when taken in combination with the Trump-touted antibiotic azithromycin. Patients receiving both drugs together were more likely to experience cardiac arrest than those who received one or neither of the therapies, according to a retrospective study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Trump, who will turn 74 years old next month and has no medical background or expertise, claims that he took that combination for the first dose but changed the combination to zinc thereafter.

"I haven't taken that other than an original dose, because all you need  well, you don't have to take it simultaneously. But the zinc I do take, so I'm taking the two," the president said. "I'm taking the zinc and the hydroxy."

Fox News host Neil Cavnuto immediately debunked the president's dangerous claims following the press conference, warning that "this will kill you."

"If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment . . . it will kill you," he said. "I cannot stress enough."

When asked if he had the approval of a medical professional, Trump claimed a White House doctor signed off by saying, "Well, if you'd like it."

When asked why he waited so long to tell the public, Trump said, "I would've told you that 3 to 4 days ago, but we never had a chance, because you never asked me the question.


Though the president had recently appeared to back off the drug, his allies in right-wing media had gone all-in. Fox News host Laura Ingraham — who has publicly acknowledged she has no medical expertise — appealed personally to Trump on her broadcast last week, asking the president to spike the "misguided" FDA warning about the treatment.

Though the FDA had authorized use of the drug in COVID-19 patients in March in spite of thin substantiating evidence, it warned against the unproven drug treatment in April. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly deleted guidance about hydroxychloroquine from its website in early April.

In addition to heart failure, known side effects include paranoia and psychosis. The president, who last month directed health agencies to examine the effects that ingesting disinfectant into the lungs might have on patients, offered no documented evidence that he was taking the drug.

Trump on Monday claimed to reporters that he had started taking the drug after hearing "a lot of good stories" and receiving "so many letters from people."

One doctor whom Trump would not name appears to have been particularly effective, convincing Trump in a letter that he had successfully treated hundreds of people.

"He doesn't want anything," Trump said of the doctor. "I don't know him — never heard of him."

Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney for Trump who was forced to remove a tweet promoting junk science behind the drug, claims to have advised Trump on hydroxychloroquine. Giuliani has reportedly touted the highly-criticized work of Ukrainian-born doctor Vladimir Zelenko to Trump.

Trump on Monday pre-empted possible anticipated accusations of grift.

"People said, 'Oh maybe he owns the company,'" the president said. "No, I don't own the company. You know what? I want the people of this nation to feel good. I don't want them being sick."

But Trump does have "a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine," according to the New York Times. So do a number of his associates and other administration officials.

An Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized in March after drinking an aquarium cleaning product containing a form of the chemical called chloroquine phosphate, a decision which his wife later blamed on Trump's endorsement of hydroxychloroquine.

"All I can tell you is so far, I seem to be OK," the president said Monday.

Former White House physician Ronny Jackson, who once said he thought Trump could live to be 200 if he stopped eating junk food, said this February that he used to secretly sneak mashed cauliflower in with Trump's mashed potatoes in an effort to keep him healthy.

The White House did not immediately respond to Salon's questions.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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