A judge in Ohio has issued an emergency order telling a hospital to treat a coronavirus patient with ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug being promoted widely by right-wing personalities as a covid-19 treatment and prophylactic. Though it’s being studied for that purpose, ivermectin currently doesn’t have good data to back it up as a covid-19 treatment. In recent weeks, the U.S. FDA and CDC have warned people against taking ivermectin intended for animals after several overdoses among people attempting to treat themselves.
According to Cincinnati newspaper The Enquirer, court documents show that Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Gregory Howard ruled on Aug. 23 that West Chester Hospital, Cincinnati must treat Jeffrey Smith, 51, with ivermectin. The hospital initially refused to comply with the prescription, written by Dr. Fred Wagshul, as no reliable scientific evidence exists to show it is effective in the treatment of covid-19.
The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institutes of Health have all urged the public not to treat themselves with ivermectin, and definitely not veterinary ivermectin. (The FDA went so far as to bluntly tweet, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”) In some cases, individuals can overdose on ivermectin and develop symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, seizures, or death. While the drug is typically safe when prescribed at appropriate doses under the care of a medical professional, attempts to self-medicate have resulted in overdoses, according to the FDA.
The drug has lately become an obsession among anti-vaxxers wrongly convinced that it is a miracle cure for the coronavirus and that pharmaceutical companies are suppressing that knowledge to protect vaccine profits. Scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that current mRNA vaccines for the novel coronavirus are both safe and highly effective and that the risk of any side effects is far outweighed by the danger of long-term or life-threatening complications from covid-19.
Right-wing pundits and politicians have lent their support to the use of ivermectin, and an extensive NBC News investigation published on Aug. 26 found that its use was being promoted by America’s Frontline Doctors, a group of conspiracy theorists behind a viral PR stunt claiming the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a similar miracle cure. The group’s members have dubious credentials, including Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Texas pediatrician and minister who has previously claimed that gynecological issues are caused by dream sex with demons and that the government is partially run by reptilian aliens. After major social media networks took down a video of a press conference held by America’s Frontline Doctors in DC last year, the group’s cause was championed by conservatives and anti-vaxxers asserting they were the victim of liberal censorship. NBC News found that the group has partnered with a website called SpeakWithAnMD.com that advertises quick and easy ivermectin prescriptions.
As the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus has surged across the U.S., groups devoted to ivermectin have also gone viral on Facebook, where it requires trivial effort to find dozens of groups devoted to the drug. Users in those groups often discuss ways to obtain it from agricultural stores and other retailers without a prescription. Others have endorsed ivermectin as coincidentally also being an excellent treatment for non-existent “rope worms,” which are actually bits of the intestinal lining that slough off thanks to ingestion of bleach or other caustic chemicals.
The Enquirer reported that Washgul, a Dayton, Ohio-area pulmonologist, is listed as a founder of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCA)—an organization that pushes ivermectin as both a preventative and therapeutic for covid-19 and claims research showing its ineffectiveness is a form of disinformation. Ralph Lorigo, the lawyer in Smith’s case, is the chairman of New York’s Erie County Conservative Party and has previously filed similar suits in Illinois and New York.
The Enquirer wrote that Smith’s spouse, Judy Smith, filed a lawsuit in August seeking to force the hospital to issue the prescription after he tested positive on July 9 and was admitted to its intensive care unit on July 15. Initially, he received treatment with the antiviral drug remdesivir (the only drug approved by the FDA for treating the virus, and with limited effectiveness at that) as well as plasma and steroids. On July 27, the paper wrote, his health began to decline, and by Aug. 1, hospital personnel had him sedated and on a ventilator. Court records obtained by the Enquirer show that on Aug. 20 he was placed in a medically induced coma and as of Aug. 23 he was still combating a secondary infection that had arisen during treatment.
In the lawsuit, Judy Smith wrote that her husband “is on death’s doorstep; he has no other options” and that doctors had estimated his chances of survival at below 30%. It doesn’t specify whether he received one of the vaccines against the virus, though according to the Enquirer, Ohio Department of Health data shows that only 500 of 21,000 Ohioans hospitalized due to the virus since the start of 2021 were vaccinated.
Howard’s ruling will force the hospital to issue 30 milligrams of ivermectin to Smith daily for three weeks. Both UC Health or Washgul’s office cited federal laws concerning the privacy of medical records when the Enquirer asked for an update on his condition.
For his part, Washgul told the Enquirer the data backing ivermectin is “irrefutable,” accused the CDC and FDA of a “conspiracy” to block the drug’s use, and said that research on it was subject to “censorship.” He also said that U.S. government warnings about ivermectin were tantamount to “genocide.”
Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine physician Dr. Leanne Chrisman-Khawam told the Enquirer that Washgul’s group was comprised of “snake oil salesmen.” She added the FLCCA website is full of misinterpreted analysis of research data and cites studies with basic research flaws, such as insufficiently sized control groups or failure to account for variables like vaccination and masking.
This isn’t the only recent ruling on coronavirus protocols. In early August, a federal appeals court upheld Indiana University’s requirement that all staff and students receive coronavirus vaccines, finding that the university acted reasonably “in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities.”