Going against FDA warnings, Arkansas physician gives anti-parasite drug to jail inmates with COVID-19

detention center in Washington County, Arkansas, has been using the anti-parasite drug ivermectin to treat inmates who have COVID-19, local officials say, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has specifically warned against it.

The FDA says the drug, which is frequently used as a dewormer in animals, is not an approved or recommended treatment for COVID-19, and “can cause serious harm.”

Eva Madison, a county elected official, raised the issue during a finance and budget committee meeting Tuesday night. Jail officials were presenting their 2022 budget, which included the jail’s physician, Dr. Rob Karas, asking for a 10% increase in the medical services contract.

Madison informed committee members and the jail officials that a county employee, who has opted to stay anonymous to the public, told her that he had been sent to the jail’s clinic to get tested for COVID-19. When the person tested negative, they were given a $76 prescription for ivermectin. He was concerned about the prescription and asked his primary care physician about it, and the the physician told him to “throw that in the trash,” Madison said. 

An ivermectin prescription given to a Washington County employee in Arkansas.

While this individual “had the good fortune to have a physician that he could go to and ask for a second opinion,” Madison said at the meeting, “our inmates do not have that choice.” 

The FDA has warned against using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans — but misinformation and unsubstantiated claims touting the drug have spread widely on social media. The agency said it has received “multiple reports” of people whose use of the drug required them to seek medical support or hospitalization. 

“Ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for some parasitic worms, and there are topical (on the skin) formulations for head lice and skin conditions like rosacea,” the FDA says. “Ivermectin is not an anti-viral (a drug for treating viruses).” 

Large doses of ivermectin are “dangerous and can cause serious harm,” the agency added. 

There have even been reports from several states of people ingesting highly concentrated forms of ivermectin that are used to prevent heartworms and other parasites in animals, including horses and cows. These formulations can be “highly toxic” to humans, the FDA says. 

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