Respect Equality

Arkansas inmates unknowingly given ivermectin to treat COVID-19, lawsuit says

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Story at a glance

  • The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Washington County Detention Center and its health care provider, Karas Correctional Health, on behalf of four inmates who say they were prescribed ivermectin without their knowledge.
  • Karas Correctional Health had been administering ivermectin to inmates in the facility since November 2020, according to the lawsuit.
  • The FDA has said it does not recommend using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Misuse of this drug, intended to treat some parasitic worms, can have serious consequences.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a lawsuit against a county jail and its health care provider on behalf of four inmates who say they were given the controversial drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19 without their knowledge or consent.

The inmates at the Washington County Detention Center in Arkansas were told after testing positive for COVID-19 in August that their treatment consisted of “vitamins,” “antibiotics,” and/or “steroids,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday. Instead, they were reportedly given an unknown dose of ivermectin over a period of days or weeks.

According to the suit, ivermectin had been used to treat COVID-19 within the facility as early as November 2020 — a fact which only came to light in August 2021, when Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder confirmed that the facility’s health care provider, Karas Correctional Health, had been prescribing ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not recommend taking the anti-parasitic drug to prevent or treat COVID-19, despite claims to the contrary from influential media personalities like Joe Rogan.


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Merck, the company that makes ivermectin, said in February that there is “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19” and that the majority of studies about the drug’s potential effect on COVID-19 have a “concerning lack of safety data.”

Ivermectin has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of some parasitic worms in humans and animals, but misuse of ivermectin can cause serious harm, including seizures and hepatitis.

“Without knowing and voluntary consent, plaintiffs ingested incredibly high doses of a drug that credible medical professionals, the FDA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all agree is not an effective treatment against COVID-19, and that if given in large doses is dangerous for humans,” the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, “high doses” is “no hyperbole” and inmates were in some cases given up to 6 times the approved dosage of ivermectin. Each of the four inmates in the suit suffered side effects including vision issues, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

“No one – including incarcerated individuals – should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation. Sheriff Helder has a responsibility to provide food, shelter, and safe, appropriate care to incarcerated individuals,” Gary Sullivan, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement.

“The detention center failed to use safe and appropriate treatments for COVID-19, even in the midst of a pandemic, and they must be held accountable,” he said.

The Arkansas State Medical Board has already been investigating complaints against Karas over the WCDC’s use of ivermectin, which it is expected to discuss at an upcoming meeting in February, the Associated Press reported.

In a September letter sent by his attorney, Dr. Robert Karas, who owns Karas Correctional Health, told a Medical Board investigator that 254 Washington County Detention Center inmates had been treated with ivermectin, according to the AP.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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