The CIA Isn't on Team Hydroxychloroquine Just Yet

April 15, 2020 Topic: Health Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: CIACoronavirusHealthEconomyCOVID-19

The CIA Isn't on Team Hydroxychloroquine Just Yet

The CIA has not, to be clear, "banned" its employees from taking hydroxychloroquine, and has only advised them to not take the drug unless directed to do so by a doctor as part of a study.

The full-on culture war over hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that President Trump and some allies have been pushing for coronavirus treatment has now been raging for more than two weeks, with both proponents and skeptics of the drug ascribing nefarious motives to their opponents.

The drug has been approved for off-label use for coronavirus patients, and some doctors have been using it to treat patients. However, doctors are divided on the drug's actual effectiveness, as a much-touted international survey of doctors called hydroxychloroquine the most effective available treatment was followed a week later by the next version of the survey, which said it no longer was.

Other doctors have warned of significant side effects for the drug, especially for patients with heart conditions, and demand for the drug for coronavirus treatment has threatened the supply for those who need to take hydroxychloroquine for other conditions.

This has been followed by debate over who stands to profit from a surge in production of the drug, which has included stories about Trump's family mutual fund's ownership of a small stake in the company that produces the drugs and a pharma industry-tied donor named Joe Pizza.

The latest development in the Great Hydroxychloroquine Wars is unlikely to stop the proliferation of conspiracy theories: The CIA has weighed in.

The Washington Post reported this week that the Central Intelligence Agency has warned its employees about the drug's side effects. The warning was issued on an internal website for CIA personnel, in which employees could ask questions about coronavirus and have them answered.

“At this point, the drug is not recommended to be used by patients except by medical professionals prescribing it as part of ongoing investigational studies," the CIA site said.

"There are potentially significant side effects, including sudden cardiac death, associated with hydroxychloroquine and its individual use in patients need to be carefully selected and monitored by a health care professional.”

The CIA has not, to be clear, "banned" its employees from taking hydroxychloroquine, and has only advised them to not take the drug unless directed to do so by a doctor as part of a study. The Post described this episode as another example of the president staking out a controversial position and then government agencies quietly pushing back.

Some of the reactions to the report have been perhaps predictable, with Tom Fitton of activist group Judicial Watch tweeting "OUTRAGE: Deep State CIA undermines @RealDonaldTrump and places CIA employees at risk with misleading info on #Hydroxychloroquine and #coronavirus."

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. 

Image: Reuters.