Aug 25, 2021 - COVID

Unapproved drug given to Arkansas inmates for COVID-19

Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Karas Correctional Health provides health care at the Washington County jail but reportedly has prescribed ivermectin to inmates for COVID-19. Ivermectin is not approved for treating COVID-19.

Why it matters: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against using the drug for the virus. However, as discussed during a quorum court meeting Tuesday — and reported Wednesday morning in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — the jail's health provider had been prescribing ivermectin to inmates.

Context: Veterinary ivermectin is used to treat parasites in animals. Despite warnings from health officials, people have been taking it to try to treat COVID-19, resulting in an increase in calls to poison control.

  • The Arkansas Poison Center has received 27 calls this year related to ivermectin, spokesperson Leslie Taylor told Axios.
  • Some forms of ivermectin are approved for use in humans, such as treating parasitic worms and head lice, and physicians have the ability to prescribe medications for off-label use, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

What's next: Amy Embry, executive director at the Arkansas State Medical Board, explained to Axios that the board does not generally regulate health care at correctional facilities and operates on a complaint basis, which means it may investigate complaints made against doctors by patients or anyone else.

  • The medical board can suspend or revoke medical licenses.
  • The board hasn't received complaints (at least not ones that have been processed and become public yet) about this, and Tuesday's meeting appears to be the first time many learned about it.

Reality check: An Aug. 1 post on Karas Health Care's Facebook page disputes that masks decrease the spread of viruses. Masks do decrease the spread of viruses, including COVID-19.

What they're saying: "I think we need to reevaluate who we are using to provide medical care if they are disregarding FDA guidelines and giving dewormer to detainees at our county jail," Eva Madison, justice of the peace, said during the quorum court meeting this week.

  • Karas asked for a 10% raise from the county, which was a discussion item at the meeting.
  • Holly Dickson, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas, wrote in a statement, "No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be subject to medical experimentation."

The other side: Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said during the meeting Karas has been "amazing partners" during the pandemic. He said out of more than 500 positive COVID-19 cases at the jail, one person had been admitted to the hospital, and no one had died.

  • "We may have disagreements on treatment, but you know what? Doctors prescribe. They've been to medical school. I haven't," Helder said.

Go deeper: Read the Arkansas Department of Health's guidance on the drug here.


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