UK study shows common drug can be used to treat COVID-19

Dexamethasone is a common drug that doctors now say could have a very important role in saving lives.

It's a steroid medication in use since the 1960s.

Doctors say they've been prescribing it for years.

“You may be familiar with them being used for arthritis or asthma,” said Dr. Matthew Knight, an Orlando physician. “They suppress the immune system."

Researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK conducted a massive study involving thousands of patients to try to find a treatment for COVID-19.

“The key question we all are asking is how we best treat these patients, make sure they recover quickly, and we reduce the number of deaths as best we can,” said Dr. Peter Horby, who helped conduct the study.

Researchers used Dexamethasone and a number of other drugs on hospitalized COVID-19 patients to see if they'd have any effect.

“We will evaluate properly whether these drugs are effective or not, and can give the right guidance to patients and their doctors,” Horby said.

The research showed that Dexamethasone use cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and for those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.

“You're talking about a very cheap, widely-available drug that reduced mortality significantly in this big clinical trial,” Dr. Knight said.

Researchers said that if they’d started using this from the start of the pandemic, they could have saved up to 5,000 lives.

Doctors say patients shouldn't run out and buy this drug, though, as it's only effective for high-risk patients who are already in the hospital.

“The study clearly shows no benefit in people who do not need oxygen or are on a ventilator, and it was not tested in non-hospitalized patients,” said Orlando physician Dr. Jason Littleton.

Since Dexamethasone has already been approved by the FDA, hospitals could start using it for COVID-19 treatment as soon as they see fit.