Treasure Valley pharmacists and officials are seeing more doctors prescribe ivermectin to treat and prevent COVID-19, going against the recommendations of federal and worldwide health officials, who say doing so can be dangerous.
The search for available ivermectin has even driven some to use animal versions of the product and hunt for physicians willing to prescribe it.
Ivermectin was first created in Japan in the 1970s and became known as a highly effective anti-parasitic drug. It’s been used across the world to treat a variety of diseases, including parasitic worms and head lice.
Recently, though, it’s been touted as an effective treatment against COVID-19, reportedly reducing the death and hospitalization rates in sick patients.
Recommendations of the drug have often accompanied anti-vaccine messaging, with advocates saying it can replace the need for someone to get the shot.
However, health officials across the country have warned that ivermectin’s impact on COVID-19 is still unknown and could be potentially dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it has received reports of people hospitalized for using animal versions of the product and that ivermectin could have dangerous side effects in humans.
‘There’s a thin line’
Still, Boise-area residents have been accessing the drug in greater numbers than usual.
Kevin White, a pharmacist at Medicap, a drugstore in Meridian, said he now fills up to three ivermectin prescriptions a week. He noted that it used to be a drug that pharmacists rarely had to work with before the pandemic.
“You hardly ever saw ivermectin used,” White said.
Travis Walthall, a pharmacist at Rx Custom Compounding in Kuna, said he used to fill an ivermectin prescription once a year, sometimes less. He’s already up to 25 prescriptions in 2021.
But just because more people are using ivermectin more doesn’t mean acquiring it has been easy. White said patients often have to go to several doctors in the area before finding one who will write a prescription, as many don’t feel comfortable prescribing it for COVID-19.
“Not all providers are on the same page on this,” he said. “There’s a thin line that you cross with certain providers.”
The practice often resembles doctor shopping, in which patients visit multiple doctors until they find one willing to prescribe a sought-after treatment. Doctor shopping has gained more controversy in light of the ongoing opioid crisis. White said he knows of several doctors in the Boise area writing these prescriptions.
Idaho Medical Association Executive Director Susie Keller said her organization has been notified of alleged doctor shopping in the state, but the association does not have a policy against it.
The Idaho Medical Association and State Board of Pharmacy told the Statesman that they had no position on doctors prescribing ivermectin to patients. Keller said, though, that the association has seen no evidence suggesting its effectiveness against COVID-19.
Others seeking ivermectin are attempting to avoid prescriptions altogether. Animal feed stores and veterinarians across the country have reported people purchasing ivermectin intended for livestock with hopes to use it for COVID-19.
It’s unclear how common the practice is in Idaho. Only one feed store, Legacy Feed and Fuels, told the Statesman that it had seen an increase in ivermectin sales.
D&B Supply President Mark Schmitt told the Statesman the company hasn’t seen an increase in sales of the drug, but that its stores now have signs warning customers their ivermectin isn’t made for human consumption.
Dr. Danny Borders, a horse veterinarian in Canyon County, said he personally did not know anyone taking animal ivermectin. However, he said costs for the drug have doubled in recent months and supplies have been harder to find in 2021.
On local Facebook groups, such as “Stand Up for Idaho,” some users have suggested buying animal ivermectin at feed stores or on Amazon. One user showed a picture of tubes of Zimecterin, a topical form of ivermectin made for horses.
The FDA has warned that using animal ivermectin can be dangerous, as it’s highly-concentrated since livestock often weigh more than humans, and can lead to adverse reactions.
“I highly recommend they do not use that for human use,” Walthall said.
Other Facebook posts show Idahoans inquiring which doctors will prescribe ivermectin to them.
Studies called into question
The Treasure Valley is home to one of the most well-known proponents of ivermectin for treating COVID-19. Dr. Ryan Cole, a Garden City pathologist, said he’s prescribed ivermectin to 170 patients with a high rate of success.
Cole is a finalist for an open seat on the Central District Board of Health and has come under fire from the local medical community for spreading misinformation on the pandemic and COVID-29 vaccines.
He told the Statesman on Aug. 9 that he’s read multiple studies showing ivermectin’s effectiveness, including a meta-analysis in the American Journal of Therapeutics.
“I am a huge fan of ivermectin,” he said. “There are over 19,000 patients in ivermectin studies around the world and probably more by now.”
However, studies on ivermectin’s effectiveness against COVID-19 have come under scrutiny as well. Recently, data included in that same meta-analysis was retracted because ofplagiarism and data manipulation, according to the scientific journal Nature.
Merck, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures ivermectin in American, said on its website that it does not believe the science has proved the drug is effective against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a March study in the Journal of the American Medical Association did not find evidence of ivermectin’s effectiveness against the coronavirus.
The pharmacists interviewed for this story both recommended people get the vaccine, even if they’re taking ivermectin.
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