State Keeps Hydroxychloroquine Trial, But Only For Prevention; Drug Won’t Go To Sick Patients

May 28, 2020

Allison Suttle
Credit Sanford Health News

The top doctor at Sanford Health says South Dakota will continue a pilot study of the drug hydroxychloroquine, but the drug will not go to people who are sick with COVID-19. 

Instead, researchers will look at the drug’s ability to prevent or lessen the severity of the disease. 

Hydroxychloroquine has been controversial since President Donald Trump began touting it as a potential treatment for COVID-19. He said he took it himself. 

Studies associated with the World Health Organization, New York state and the Department of Veterans Affairs raised concerns about poor or even harmful results from the drug. 

Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle of Sanford Health said those studies used the drug to treat people infected with the virus. At first, South Dakota’s pilot study was looking at the same thing. 

“There were some cases where we were treating patients with hydroxychloroquine in the hospital setting,” Suttle said. “But those physicians, those critical-care docs that meet regularly and discuss the literature, are now saying that hydroxychloroquine is not useful in those scenarios.” 

Suttle made the remarks during a joint press conference Thursday with Gov. Kristi Noem. 

Suttle said South Dakota will continue its hydroxychloroquine trial only on people who’ve been exposed to COVID-19, but have not tested positive. If doctors say they’re a good candidate, volunteers will get either the drug or a placebo. Suttle said the patients are screened for heart problems, medications that could interact negatively with hydroxychloroquine, and other risk factors. 

Doctors will monitor patients to see if the drug prevents COVID-19, or lessens its severity. Suttle said the drug is already used that way to help prevent malaria. 

“I’m not invested in if it works or if it doesn’t work,” Suttle said. “What I want to know is an answer so that we can move forward.” 

South Dakota’s trial began two weeks ago. Suttle volunteered that only a “few” people have enrolled. Under questioning from reporters, she described the number as a “handful” and then said she didn’t have the exact number immediately at her disposal. She said the state hopes to enroll 2,000 people. 

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.