An Arkansas jail and its health-care provider are facing criticisms of “medical experimentation” because the jail’s medical staff has been treating COVID-19 patients with ivermectin, a drug commonly used for deworming livestock.
Washington County Justice of the Peace Eva Madison (D) said she heard reports of the practice Tuesday after a county employee visited a Karas Health Care coronavirus testing site at the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville and was prescribed ivermectin despite testing negative for the coronavirus.
Karas is one of three health-care providers accessible to employees on the county health-care plan. It operates in the jail as Karas Correctional Health.
“When this employee told me that, I thought, ‘Our sheriff has common sense. He’ll know what’s going on,’ ” Madison told The Washington Post on Wednesday. Madison said she has a good rapport with Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder but was dismayed when he confirmed her suspicions — and defended the practice.
“He didn’t seem to care that this goes against FDA guidance.”
Neither Helder (D) nor Robert Karas, the owner and lead physician at Karas Heath Care, responded to The Post’s request for comment Wednesday. Helder confirmed the practice to the Northern Arkansas Press-Democrat.
Helder told the Press-Democrat that he has known since July that jail detainees were being treated with ivermectin, and he praised Karas as a health-care partner.
“Whatever a doctor prescribes, that’s out of my bailiwick,” Helder told the paper. “But I will stake their record against any medical provider in any correctional facility in the United States. Doctors prescribe. They’ve been to medical school. I haven’t.”
Like hydroxychloroquine before it, ivermectin is a drug whose off-label use has been touted, particularly in conservative media and nonmedical circles, as a COVID-19 treatment.
In recent weeks, calls to poison-control hotlines have surged in several states as people snap up the drug in various forms — including buying out livestock supply centers for the veterinary formulation of the drug. Ivermectin can be prescribed for human use in limited doses, typically in tablet form to treat parasitic worms and as a topical cream to treat lice and rosacea, according to the FDA.
The Arkansas Department of Health told The Post that it does not track the use of prescription ivermectin, but it referred to a Tuesday letter that confirmed that the Arkansas Poison Control Center has received “an increasing number of calls regarding individuals who took ivermectin intended for animal or livestock use.”
Madison said Karas confirmed on Tuesday that he was treating jail detainees with ivermectin and said he was taking it himself and giving it to family members.
The Post viewed screenshots of Karas’s since-deleted Facebook posts in which he touts the use of ivermectin and indicates that more than 350 people at the jail had been given the drug, allegedly to no ill effect.
As county officials discussed a request to extend Karas’s contract and expand the jail’s budget Tuesday, Madison and others steered questions toward the ivermectin prescriptions.
Madison noted that a county employee was out “76 dollars because of Dr. Karas prescribing dewormer to a county employee for treatment of a condition that he didn’t have.”
A line of questions from another county official indicated that there is little recourse for detainees who have problems with the medical treatment they receive, apart from filing a civil rights complaint or writing to the state medical board.
“No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be subject to medical experimentation,” Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a statement. Dickinson cited the FDA’s warning about ivermectin, noting that it can cause seizures and death when misused.
The Washington County employee who alerted Madison to the issue said they were “unsettled” that doctors providing health-care services in the county were prescribing a drug that could have such adverse effects.
The employee, who spoke to The Post Wednesday on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they received eight prescriptions, including zinc, vitamin D and ivermectin, despite receiving a negative rapid test.
“Here I am, already tested negative, and they’re prescribing it to me,” said the employee, who said they contacted their doctor after receiving the prescriptions because they already take medication for a preexisting condition.
“What about the guys in the jail? They can’t get a second opinion like I did,” the employee said. “I don’t know any of them in there and probably wouldn’t hang out with any of them, but they’re human beings.”