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Arkansas inmates are suing after being given ivermectin to treat COVID-19

A box of ivermectin is shown in a pharmacy as pharmacists work in the background last year in Georgia.
Mike Stewart
/
AP
A box of ivermectin is shown in a pharmacy as pharmacists work in the background last year in Georgia.

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit after they say medical staff gave them the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19 without telling them what it was. The inmates said they were told the medicines they were taking were "vitamins," "antibiotics" or "steroids."

Federal health authorities and leading medical experts warn that ivermectin should not be used to treat the coronavirus, but a small group of doctors and a chorus of right-wing figures have endorsed the drug for COVID-19 patients.

The complaint names Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, the Washington County Detention Center, Dr. Robert Karas and his medical practice, Karas Health Care.

"No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation," said Gary Sullivan, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the lawsuit. "Sheriff Helder has a responsibility to provide food, shelter and safe, appropriate care to incarcerated individuals."

Ivermectin has been hailed as a wonder drug for treating parasitic infections in humans since the 1980s. It was originally launched as a deworming drug for livestock.

But while it may be a medical innovation for treating parasites, leading medical experts say the same isn't true for COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for treating or preventing COVID-19, and in September, the American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists released a joint statement saying ivermectin shouldn't be used to treat COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales and Dayman Blackburn — say they were given ivermectin in "high doses" anyway, which caused them to develop side effects such as vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools and stomach cramps.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said it was unable to comment on pending litigation.

But during a Washington County Finance and Budget Committee meeting in August, Helder, the sheriff, reportedly praised Karas Health Care and said that what a doctor prescribes isn't in his "bailiwick" because he hasn't been to medical school, according to local TV station KNWA.

Karas Health Care did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Just days after the lawsuit was filed, a post on Karas Health Care's Facebook page signed by "Dr. Rob and Team" said: "Inmates aren't dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing [sic] their facilities requesting same treatment we're using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin."

Karas said he has had success using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, that he regularly gives it to patients with the coronavirus and that he himself has taken it and also given it to family members.

The Arkansas State Medical Board opened an investigation into Karas in August, according to NBC News.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
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