Arkansas Inmates Say Unknowingly Given Ivermectin for COVID-19

  • Ivermectin, a deworming drug, has not been approved for use against COVID-19.
  • Arkansas inmates told the AP they weren’t told they were given ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
  • Officials previously said the use of the drug was voluntary.

Inmates at a northwestern Arkansas county jail said they did not know they were being given ivermectin to treat COVID-19, a drug which that has not been approved for use against the disease, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Three inmates at the Washington County jail told the AP that they were not told that the drug was ivermectin, an anti-parasitic also used on animals. The Arkansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has received similar reports, the AP reported.

“They were pretty much testing us in here is all they were doing, seeing if it would work,” said William Evans, an inmate at the prison who was given the drug after he tested positive for COVID-19, according to the AP.

The news comes a week after Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder confirmed the drug had been used to treat COVID-19 in the jail, in spite of its not being approved for this use, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned against misusing ivermectin to treat COVID-19. 

The drug is currently only approved “at very specific doses for some parasitic worms” and it is “not an antiviral,” per the FDA. An overdose of the ivermectin can lead to seizures, comas, and death, the CDC said.

The state’s medical board launched an investigation into the jail’s use of the drug last week.

Helder said he was made aware that the drug was being used as a COVID-19 treatment in July by the jail’s health provider, Karas Correctional Health, the Democrat-Gazette reported. 

Washington County Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said last week that the ivermectin prescriptions were voluntary.

“It’s all voluntary,” he said, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “They are able to refuse any medication they’re offered. Even with the vaccine, it’s all voluntary.”

But the inmates’ saying they were not told about the drug contradicts this position, the AP noted.

Dr. Robert Karas, the owner of Karas Correctional Health and a physician at the prison, said in a statement to NBC News last week that he had been prescribing the drug since late 2020 to treat patients and inmates who were sick with COVID-19.

ACLU Arkansas has called for an end to the practice.

Prescription for ivermectin have risen 24 times in August compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the CDC. Ivermectin-related calls to US poison-control centers have risen five-fold over baseline, with a particular uptick in July, the CDC said in a recent report. 

While there is no data to conclusively support the use of ivermectin to reduce disease and death from COVID-19, high-profile figures including Sens. Ron Johnson and Rand Paul have promoted the drug as an answer to COVID-19. The podcast host Joe Rogan said on Wednesday he had taken ivermectin to treat his COVID-19 infection.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association, and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists said they were “alarmed” by the increase in ivermectin prescriptions and that they “strongly opposed” prescribing the drug to prevent or treat COVID-19.

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