Potentially dangerous 'coronavirus drugs' for sale on YouTube

17 April 2020, 09:47

Potentially dangerous 'coronavirus drugs' are available for sale on YouTube
Potentially dangerous 'coronavirus drugs' are available for sale on YouTube. Picture: YouTube
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

Potentially dangerous drugs are being offered for sale on YouTube as “cures” for coronavirus, an LBC investigation has found.

Amid widespread global concern about the virus, unscrupulous sellers are using YouTube videos to advertise a variety of drugs, many of which are currently undergoing clinical trials to treat COVID-19, but none of which have yet been approved for use.

They include drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication repeatedly mentioned by President Trump at his daily press conferences, and HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir.

None of these have been proven to treat coronavirus. And they certainly haven’t been approved by regulators for that purpose.

Such drugs can cause potentially serious side effects, including heart problems, and should only be administered by a medical professional. And yet, a few quick searches on YouTube brought up at least five different accounts offering to sell them over the internet.

LBC has blurred the contact details on these YouTube videos
LBC has blurred the contact details on these YouTube videos. Picture: YouTube

LBC contacted a number of the sellers, who promised us that the drugs would cure coronavirus, and that they could be sent immediately from warehouses in places such as Japan and India to the UK.

One seller wanted us to pay in bitcoin, the anonymous internet currency, raising the prospect that it could simply be a scam aimed at scared and desperate people searching for cures on YouTube.

The World Health Organisation’s special envoy for coronavirus, Dr David Nabarro, told LBC that it was imperative that drugs faced clinical trials, and just because they were approved for one condition did not mean they were safe for another.

“There is a process for determining whether or not a drug is effective and safe in relation to a particular condition: a clinical trial,” he said. “And those have to be undertaken.”

One of the sellers offering potentially dangerous 'coronavirus drugs'
One of the sellers offering potentially dangerous 'coronavirus drugs'. Picture: YouTube

Brendan Wren, the Professor of Medical Microbiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told LBC: "A vaccine is a long way off and we're treading water at the moment, trying to buy time until a vaccine is available.

"It's rather like having chemotherapy when you don't have cancer. Taking these will not help you to prevent getting coronavirus. They are not a vaccine.

"They have a number of side effects, potentially including heart disease. In the US, many people are taking hydroxychloroquine and having overdoses. And many people are taking chloroquine phosphate, which is actually used to clean out fish tanks."

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We put our findings to YouTube, who deleted all of the videos we sent them for violation of the site’s policies. But extraordinarily, one of the accounts that has multiple “coronavirus cure” videos remains active at the time of writing.

YouTube said in a statement: “We’re committed to providing timely and helpful information at this critical time, including raising authoritative content, reducing the spread of harmful misinformation and showing information panels, using WHO and NHS data, to help combat misinformation.

"We also have clear policies that prohibit videos promoting medically unsubstantiated methods to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment, and we quickly remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us.”

Although there may naturally be some questions about why it is up to journalists to flag such videos to YouTube in the first place.