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Published 7:27 PM EDT Mar 22, 2020
Chloroquine, a drug President Donald Trump has announced is being fast-tracked for clinical testing as a treatment for COVID-19, can have deadly side effects — particularly if accidentally ingested by children.
Lana and Steve Ervin know how lethal chloroquine can be. They lost a 2-year-old daughter to the drug 37 years ago. Lana said she believes Ashley ingested just one pill.
“We've got to let people know this is dangerous,” Lana said Thursday. “When I first heard them say it, I thought I needed to let people know.”
From a story published May 29, 1983, in The Daily Oklahoman, the family sat down for an interview with then-reporter Kelly Dyer. Here's an excerpt from that story:
Her mother and father thought their home was child-proof. But the chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, was tucked away behind a makeup divider in a bathroom drawer.
“We had no idea it was even in the house,” Lana said. On missions to foreign countries, Steve had used chloroquine to ward off the tropical disease.
While Ashley was playing in the bathroom, Lana was “right there in the bedroom.” She could hear her daughter playing with hair clips. …
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The Ervins had no idea their daughter was in danger. Lana said when they sat down to eat pizza that day, “Ashley's favorite,” the child's eyes began to droop.
Recognizing that something was seriously wrong, they rushed Ashley to a nearby hospital and were relieved to find out the child had not taken aspirin. They did not know the anti-malaria drug was severely dangerous, much less lethal. “We really thought it would be pump the stomach and be home tomorrow.”
They spent the following five days in the pediatric intensive care unit fighting death with Ashley.
CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) CoronaVirus Covid-19 CoronaVirus Treatment coronavirus vaccine ‘You've got to be careful'
Lana, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident, said she's not trying to discourage people from taking chloroquine if medical researchers determine it is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
If the drug has promise, “Bring it on,” she said. “It's a good drug, but you've got to be careful.”
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two drugs mentioned by Trump as having potential as treatments for COVID-19, have been used for decades to help prevent and treat malaria, as well as to treat other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
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Scott Schaeffer, managing director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, said hydroxychloroquine is generally better tolerated than chloroquine, but neither drug should be taken lightly.
“Chloroquine, one or two tablets in a toddler, I would have real concerns about,” Schaeffer said. “Hydroxychloroquine is not quite as bad, but it's still one that absolute caution would need to be taken to keep it out of reach of children – child-resistant containers, the whole nine yards – because it can have very similar effects to chloroquine.”
“The primary effects that we worry about are the effects on the heart,” he said. “What they can do is depress the ability of the heart to beat.”
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Even adults need to be cautious and take the drug only as prescribed, he said.
“We wouldn't want people loading up on the drug thinking they were going to prevent illness,” he said. “It's very much in an investigatory stage right now (for COVID-19). I would just have some concerns that the public is going to hear about this and going to get their hands on some and end up hurting themselves. You'd have to take it exactly as prescribed. Adults can be harmed by it, just as well.”
Lana said she has never treated medicine casually.
“We had a locked medicine cabinet,” she said. “Somehow this particular pill bottle ended up in a top drawer … back behind all the dividers. Somehow, an inquisitive 2-year-old found it and got the child-proof lid off.”
“She lived five more days,” Lana said. “Thirty-seven years later, I think of her every day and mourn her loss every day.”