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The COVID-19 pandemic represents a major challenge to both technologically advanced and resource-poor countries. There are currently no effective treatments for severe disease other than supportive care and advanced life support measures, including the use of mechanical ventilators. With the urgency and necessity bred from desperation, there have been many calls to utilize unproven therapies, such as hydroxychloroquine, for which little evidence of efficacy exists. We have previously argued that such off-label use, while legal, is problematic (and even dangerous) and have suggested several regulatory remedies that could protect patients and advance their interests while preserving the reasonable authority of physicians to do what they and their patients think is the best course of action. In this essay we ask whether the special conditions existing in a public healthcare crisis, such as the current pandemic, would justify a relaxing of our argument and permit ongoing unregulated off-label use. We outline at least four areas of concern, all of which can be exacerbated by the widespread distress and despair amongst doctors, patients and other stakeholders. We contend that, if anything, these conditions warrant even more caution and scrutiny of this practice.


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Library of Congress Subject Headings

Drugs--Prescribing, Evidence-based medicine, Drugs--Safety regulations, Drug development, Public health laws, COVID-19 (Disease)--Treatment