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Safety concerns halt research into drug Trump urged people to take

Trump continues to tout a potentially dangerous drug, even in the face of reports pointing to life-threatening hazards. Even for him, this is ... odd.
A pharmacy tech pours out pills of Hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020.George Frey / AFP - Getty Images

One week ago today, Donald Trump told Americans there's no reason to be concerned about the health risks associated with hydroxychloroquine. "A lot of doctors think it's great," the president said, adding, "And what has been determined is it doesn't harm you. It's a very powerful drug, I guess, but it doesn't harm you."

A day later, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany assured reporters, "[T]his is a safe drug to use."

The evidence to the contrary is hard to ignore. The New York Times reported:

The malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine did not help coronavirus patients and may have done harm, according to a new study based on the records of nearly 15,000 patients who received the drugs and 81,000 who did not. Some were also given the antibiotic azithromycin, or a related medicine.... People who received the drugs were more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms, according to the study in the The Lancet. They were also more likely to die.

A Washington Post report added, "For those given hydroxychloroquine, there was a 34 percent increase in risk of mortality and a 137 percent increased risk of a serious heart arrhythmias. For those receiving hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic -- the cocktail endorsed by Trump -- there was a 45 percent increased risk of death and a 411 percent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmias."

In light of the latest research, NBC News reported that the World Health Organization is suspending a trial of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19, fearing putting patients in even greater danger. All of this, of course, comes on the heels of several recent reports questioning the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, including warnings from the FDA.

And yet, despite all of this, there was Trump over the weekend, promoting content from someone touting the drug. "Many physicians agree with you," the president wrote in agreement. "Also, some very good studies!"

I won't pretend to have a perfect understanding of what's going on inside the White House, but there was a point in recent weeks in which Trump and his Fox News allies started quietly backing away from hyping this medication, apparently realizing that the evidence just wasn't there.

But the president now seems to be shifting back to his original posture, touting a potentially dangerous drug, even in the face of reports pointing to life-threatening hazards.

Recent history makes clear that Trump likes thumbing his nose at those who take science, evidence, scholarship, and independent research seriously, but this is starting to look like a rather extreme example of the phenomenon.

Postscript: Let's not overlook the fact that the president is so committed to ignoring the evidence on hydroxychloroquine that he last week accused his own Department of Veterans Affairs of conspiring against him with research that contradicted his assumptions.