Please don’t take this for the covids

2 minute read

It’s public health Opposites Day again at the White House.

When The Back Page was little, she lived in a house with a garden full of oleander trees, so one of the first things she was taught is that oleander is VERY DAMN POISONOUS.

So why are we even surprised that Donald Trump is now spruiking oleander extract as a COVID cure?

Proving himself yet again, as if any further proof were needed, to be the most exhilaratingly irresponsible leader you could have during a massive health crisis, the Nonsenser-in-Chief has “expressed enthusiasm for the Food and Drug Administration to permit an extract from the oleander plant to be marketed as a dietary supplement or, alternatively, approved as a drug to cure COVID-19, despite lack of proof that it works”.

According to the world’s new favourite expat Australian journalist Jonathan Swan, writing for Axios, the push for Phoenix Biotechnology’s oleandrin product to be approved as a COVID drug and/or an off-the-shelf dietary supplement comes mediated by neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson.

(Now the Housing and Development Secretary, Dr Carson’s fun beliefs include that

  • the pyramids were grain silos
  • Hitler only succeeded because of gun control
  • Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to America since slavery.)

We’d call this hydroxychloroquine redux, except that drug actually had a plausible mechanism behind it and was promoted by some respectable people, before the trial results failed to confirm the promise.

At least one American died and his wife ended up in hospital after listening to the President that time, and this has the potential to go much wronger than that – especially now that the US has nearly 5.5 million cases and its death toll is over 170,000.

Oleander, a traditional folk medicine/dart poison, is toxic to the heart, liver and kidneys and causes a range of symptoms up to and including coma and death when ingested.


One in vitro study showed “potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity” in vitro, though even its authors note that “Care must be taken when inferring potential therapeutic benefits”. Phoenix vice chairman Andrew Whitney insists human studies have been performed – they just haven’t been published yet.

Professor Sharon Lewin from Melbourne University’s Doherty Institute told Axios “You’d certainly want to see more work done on this before even contemplating a human trial.”

If you see something stupid, say something stupid. Send your pretty cardiac glycosides to

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