Dennis Lythgoe: The prescriber in chief is not a good source of medical advice

(Alex Brandon | AP file photo) In this April 22 photo, President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. After weeks of near-daily plugs for the use of hydroxychloroquine to help treat COVID-19 patients, Trump and the White House abruptly stopped discussing the drug a week ago. His promotion of the drug, based on isolated reports and instinct, frequently put him at odds with medical professionals, including Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, who said evidence for the efficacy of the drug for COVID-19 patients was "anecdotal."

In Utah, we learned of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine when Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration ordered a shipment for our drug store shelves. Presumably, the purchase was influenced by Donald Trump’s enthusiastic recommendation of the drug to treat the coronavirus.

When scientists pronounced it ineffective, Herbert asked for the $800,000 it cost the state to be refunded. As it had not yet been shipped, his request was granted. Close call.

But now Trump is not touting the drug anymore. He’s taking it. He thinks it will keep him from getting the virus. According to scientists, that won’t work either. But he might get side effects, i.e., heart damage or abnormalities in heart rhythm. Physicians say the drug should only be used in clinical trials or hospitals where patients may be closely monitored.

Of course, we also might fear that Trump, who has told some 17,000 lies as president, lied when he said he is taking the drug. If he did lie, his health would not be jeopardized. However, his ardent enthusiasm when he asserted that it was his “individual decision” to take the drug — and, besides, he has the right to do so — suggests that he may not have lied “this time.”

He also claimed that a study in which hundreds of veterans took the drug — and the drug failed — was false.

“This was a bad survey," Trump said. "They were giving it to people who were really in bad shape. They were very old. Almost dead. The drug has gotten a bad reputation only because I’m promoting it.”

Remember, this is the president of the United States.

It may not have occurred to him that his action could be interpreted as a bad example for the minority of Americans who listen to him very carefully. Or maybe it did occur to him. Fortunately, he has not recommended that people take the drug he takes to stop his hair from falling out. Or the statin he takes to combat rosacea on his skin. He made the decision to take hydroxychloroquine based on his own gut feeling, plus the advice of Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.

It should be noted, however, that Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto, who has multiple sclerosis, warned his viewers against taking hydroxychloroquine and recently proclaimed on his show, “If you have pre-existing conditions, it will kill you! I cannot stress enough!”

Trump called Cavuto “foolish and gullible.”

At 73, Trump is the oldest man ever sworn in for a first term as president, and he takes pride in refusing to exercise. At his check-up last year, he weighed 243 lbs., considered obese for a man standing 6 feet 3 inches. His LDL cholesterol was also found to be high, suggesting his heart could be at risk.

Since a U.S. president has never recommended drugs to Americans before, we may suspect that he is out of his element. Using the bully pulpit to hawk drugs ought to be off limits for a man who amassed a fortune in real estate, and then lost most of it. He has also not been elected as a drug czar.

However, he is running for re-election as president. He was more worried that the economy would be damaged than he was about the loss of American lives. But recently, he tried to keep the country’s infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, from offering a medical warning to Congress about easing restrictions. Fauci testified that it “may be too soon to re-open” because of the potential loss of lives. The country, of course has re-opened, with Connecticut the last state to do so.

So far, Trump has resisted firing one of the most brilliant scientists to serve his country. But the next time we face a national emergency, we should probably not look the other way when an incompetent president delivers his own condescending medical advice at daily press briefings, especially if he does not believe in science.

Dennis Lythgoe

Dennis Lythgoe, Ph.D., Salt Lake City, is a professor emeritus of history, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Mass.