A jail in northwest Arkansas is facing backlash after it was revealed medical staff had been treating coronavirus-infected inmates with ivermectin, an animal dewormer whose apparently increasing off-label use as a coronavirus treatment has been alarming public health authorities in recent weeks.
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder confirmed Tuesday night that ivermectin has been prescribed to inmates infected with Covid-19 at the county detention center, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette first reported.
The revelation came after Washington County Justice of the Peace Eva Madison (D) heard reports that a county employee visited a coronavirus testing site at the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville and was instructed to take ivermectin despite testing negative for the virus, Madison told The Washington Post.
Madison raised the rumored use of the drug at a budget meeting Tuesday night, and said she was shocked by Helder’s response: “He didn’t seem to care that this goes against FDA guidance.”
Helder said he was informed by health-care provider Karas Correctional Health in July that jail detainees were being treated with ivermectin, praising the company as an “amazing partner” and deferring to their medical expertise, according to the Democrat Gazette.
Robert Karas, the owner and lead physician of Karas Health Care who has been overseeing the testing and treatment of inmates throughout the pandemic, reportedly touted ivermectin online and suggested more than 350 people at the jail had been given the drug in Facebook posts.
Neither Karas nor Helder immediately responded to requests for comment from Forbes.
Ivermectin is a drug that is most commonly used for veterinary parasitic diseases, but has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat some parasitic worm infections and skin diseases in humans too. It was considered as a promising potential treatment for Covid-19 earlier on in the pandemic after some initial research found it could prevent coronavirus replication. However, the National Institutes of Health and the European Medicines Agency both decided that there was not sufficient evidence to support the use of the drug as a Covid-19 treatment after numerous studies did not show the same benefits of using ivermectin, and some of the early research was criticized for small sample sizes and problems with study design.
Nonetheless, the drug has been touted in right-wing and non-medical circles, earning high-profile endorsements from Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. States across the country—including Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi—have been reporting an uptick in calls to poison control centers due to more people taking the drug, which is being scooped up from shelves at livestock supply centers. This prompted the Food and Drug Administration to release an urgent warning on August 21 about how the drug is “dangerous” in large doses and “can cause serious harm.”
“The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses,” the agency said.
Its use in the Arkansas jail immediately sparked criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which accused the jail of “medical experimentation. “No one—including incarcerated individuals—should be subject to medical experimentation,” wrote the group’s executive director, Holly Dickson, in a statement.
“Washington County sheriff confirms use of ivermectin at Detention Center” (Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette)