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COVID-19 and Medications in the News

There is widespread confusion about which medications to take or not to take during this pandemic. Use this guide in discussions with your health care providers.

For COVID-19

Hydroxycholoroquine (Plaquenil®)

You might have seen information about use of hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) plus azithyromycin (Z-pack®) to prevent or reduce impact of COVID-19.  Other reports include chloroquine or quinine in place of hydroxychloroquine. No large-scale clinical studies have been conducted to show that these medications are safe and effective for treating COVID-19 disease.

Hydroxycholoroquine is an essential medication for many people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, or other such conditions. Unfortunately, the hype about these medications has caused them to be hoarded by many people and making them no longer available for people who need them each day. Chloroquine is used to treat malaria.  Some people have found these ingredients in other products and been poisoned.  The medications definitely have side effects and should only be taken if directed by your doctor.

Remdesivir

A medication that was helpful in fighting Ebola is now being studied as a potential help for those who are hospitalized with COVID-19.  Studies are currently being conducted around the world to determine for whom and when this medication can be most effective. Right now, hospitals that are participating in a study can make this medication available to patients who meet their study criteria. The initial study outcomes will be available in the next few weeks.

Other medications are being investigated as well.  As the number of cases is growing, so is the effort to find treatments.

For fever

A French health official gave an update that indicated nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDs, should be avoided if you have COVID-19 disease and a fever. Medications in this category include ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®); naproxen (Aleve®); meloxicam (Mobic®); and celecoxib (Celebrex®).

Since that report came out, doctors and pharmacists have been reviewing the concerns presented in the statement. U.S. officials have not found enough evidence to support the statement. If you already take one of these medications, please continue to take it and talk with your doctor if you have concerns.

If you have a healthy liver, then take acetaminophen (Tylenol®) for your fever.

Besides any impact on your ability to fight COVID-19, NSAIDs can upset your stomach (so take with food), can raise your blood pressure, and can worsen your kidney function if taken for a long time.  So, unrelated to COVID-19, use these medications for pain, fever, or inflammation sparingly or under the guidance of your doctor. Do not take higher than the recommended dose.

For blood pressure

A scientist posted a theory from animal data (mostly mice) that certain blood pressure medications might be a poor choice during the coronavirus pandemic.  Almost immediately, other scientists and doctors had an opposite theory that they might actually help if someone ends up with pneumonia from COVID-19.  So, since there is no evidence that these medications have either hurt or helped anyone with COVID-19, experts are encouraging people to stay on them. If you are concerned, please DO NOT STOP your medication. Talk with your doctor about your concerns. 

These medications include angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (called ACE inhibitors).  ACE inhibitor medication chemical names end in -pril, such as lisinopril and enalapril. Also, angiotensin receptor blockers (called ARBs). ARBs chemical names end in -sartan, such as losartan. Many people take these for high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart failure, and other conditions.

The bottom line is…

DO NOT change any of your medications without talking with your doctor or pharmacist. Ask questions of medical professionals about your health concerns. Don’t forget our COVID-19 resources are available for use as often as you need.

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About Michelle Fritsch, PharmD, BCGP, BCACP | Kathleen Cameron, BS Pharm, MPH

Michelle Fritsch, Pharm.D., BCGP, BCACP is a pharmacist and director of Meds MASH, LLC, a service that supports older adults in maintaining and extending their independence through improved medication management.

Kathleen A. Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, is Senior Director of NCOA's Center for Healthy Aging. Kathy has more than 25 years of experience in the health care field as a pharmacist, researcher, and program director focusing on falls prevention, geriatric pharmacotherapy, mental health, long-term services and supports, and caregiving. She is also the Senior Director of the National Falls Prevention Resource Center.

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