EDITORIAL: Bad decision

Trump sets poor example with misuse of medication

“I asked him, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Well, if you’d like it.”

With that short sentence, President Trump might have destroyed one of the few positions on which he had bipartisan support.

Early in his term, the president earned widespread praise for speaking out against opioid abuse. On Monday, he admitted to one of the primary practices that mark prescription drug abuse.

Speaking at a meeting of restaurant executives, Trump said he was taking the prescription drug hydroxychloroquine not because he needed it, but to ward off the threat of contracting the novel coronavirus.

He has promoted the drug for months as a possible remedy for COVID-19 infection, although studies haven’t concluded that it helps. Empirically, some people who have been given the drug have reported reduced symptoms, others haven’t.

No studies, however, suggest that it could prevent the disease. It could, in fact, make things worse.

Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription drug that has been used to treat malaria and some forms of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It suppresses the immune system, which actually could hurt the body’s ability to fight the coronavirus on its own. The drug is known to cause heart rhythm problems and other severe side effects that can be deadly. Health experts warn that the drug should only be taken under extreme medical supervision, preferably in a hospital.

Although malaria, like the coronavirus, creates some flu-like symptoms, it is caused by a parasite, not a virus. Four major studies on Hydroxychloroquine, two in the United States, one in France and another in China, have failed to find definitive success against the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, Trump’s use of the drug could inspire others to follow his lead, and demand that their doctor prescribe it.

Such practices are the hallmark of prescription drug abuse. Some 18 million people misused or abused prescription drugs in 2017, part of a marked upward trend in recent years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that on average, 41 Americans die every day from the opioid overdoses.

Consider this: Four of our greatest social icons of the past century — Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Prince — all died as a result of prescription drug misuse. Presley’s doctor was indicted but acquitted on murder charges for overprescribing drugs to the singer, but was stripped of his medical license after it was found that he was similarly misprescribing medications to other celebrities. Jackson’s doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and Prince’s physician, while not indicted on criminal charges, was disciplined and fined by his state’s medical board.

The government’s own Food and Drug Administration and the CDC have warned against following Trump’s bad example, and no ethical physician should acquiesce as the president’s doctor did. As with any illness, patients should follow their doctors’ knowledgeable advice, take only the medications the doctor prescribes and in the manner they are told to take them.

Don’t follow the president’s lead. It could take you down a deadly path.