The anti-parasite drug, typically used to deworm horses and cattle, has developed an unlikely ― and baseless ― reputation as a COVID treatment in humans, despite stern warnings from the Food and Drug Administration.
Washington County jail physician Dr. Rob Karas acknowledged in an interview with CBS affiliate KFSM that he prescribed ivermectin to incarcerated people with COVID symptoms, but said they were “not forced” to take the drug.
But accounts given by people in the facility call that claim into question.
“I asked what are they, and they’d just tell me vitamins,” one inmate, Edrick Floreal-Wooten, told the Associated Press. “With me being sick and all of us being sick, we thought that they were there to help us. I never thought they would do something shady.”
“They were pretty much testing us in here is all they were doing, seeing if it would work,” said William Evans, another inmate who said he was given the drug for two weeks after he tested positive for COVID.
Floreal-Wooten told CBS that medicine in the jail is distributed via a pill drawer that obscures the bottles so people receiving the drugs can’t see their labels. None of the inmates were aware of what they were taking until they read about it in the news, he added.
The practice only came to light after Dr. Karas prescribed ivermectin to a county employee after he tested negative for COVID. The employee sought a second opinion from his primary care physician, then alerted Eva Madison, a county official, who flagged it during a budget meeting.
Madison said she confronted Dr. Karas, who defended his actions by pointing to a website touting ivermectin despite the FDA’s claims to the contrary. Madison characterized the website as “a little bit suspect.”
“The employee had the good fortune to have a physician he could go to and ask for a second opinion. Our inmates do not have that choice,” Madison said. “It’s very disturbing to me that that’s the level of medical care that we’re providing to the folks down at the jail.”
Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the AP show the state Medical Board was already looking into complaints about Karas before the ivermectin allegations surfaced. Earlier complaints allege Karas was using social media to cast doubt on the use of face masks to slow the spread of COVID.
The Arkansas Medical Board is investigating the reports of Karas prescribing ivermectin but declined to elaborate in a statement to the AP. Karas did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
In a letter to Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder last week, Gary Sullivan, the legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said the organization is considering legal action over the “unconscionable” allegations.