News that a doctor at an Arkansas jail was giving inmates Ivermectin for COVID cases made national headlines last month. The drug isn’t FDA-approved for that use, nor has it been shown as beneficial in fighting COVID.
But the story got even worse this week: Multiple inmates in the Washington County Detention Center, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, say they weren’t even told that they were taking the deworming drug.
The jail doctor, Rob Karas, had championed the drug on his Facebook page, writing in early August that it was one of several drugs he used to treat COVID-19, and that he’d so far seen “0% mortality in over 350 documented cases at the jail.”
The ACLU of Arkansas, which has been investigating the situation and communicating with detainees and their families, told TPM they believed the problem was “systematic.”
“I can say we have talked to multiple detainees and their family members about their medical care and that based on those reports and additional public statements of people affected, there was a systemic lack of knowledge and consent to this,” Elsa Rainey, a spokesperson for the organization, told TPM.
The inmates allegedly only found out they were taking Ivermectin once the news of its use became public late last month.
“They were pretty much testing us in here is all they were doing, seeing if it would work,” William Evans, an inmate at the jail, told the Associated Press Thursday.
Edrick Floreal-Wooten told the AP that when he’d ask what the pills were, “they’d just tell me vitamins.”
“With me being sick and all of us being sick, we thought that they were there to help us,” he added. “I never thought they would do something shady.”
Floreal-Wooten’s wife, Marlena Floreal-Wooten, told TPM that she and her husband believed several physical effects he experienced — abdominal pain, eye pressure, diarrhea — were due to the Ivermectin use. She also said she believed the non-disclosure problem is far more widespread than has been reported, and that she was aware of multiple people in the jail who were given Ivermectin — who weren’t informed they were taking the drug “until it aired on the news.”
“They would not tell him what he was taking,” she said. “That was a number of people.”
Now, as civil rights advocates and journalists press for answers on just how widespread the alleged uninformed Ivermectin use was, the county is clamming up, citing the potential for a lawsuit.
“Due to the threat of litigation, Washington County will not comment on any allegations,” county attorney Brian Lester told TPM.
News broke late last month that Karas, the detention center’s medical provider, had been giving detainees Ivermectin, despite the FDA’s warning against using the drug to treat COVID.
“There’s a greater risk of dying from COVID than there is dying from the medication,” the doctor said in an interview with Channel 5, the local CBS affiliate, after a local “justice of the peace” — the term for county commissioners in Arkansas — revealed the use of Ivermectin in the jail.
Karas said he’d been using Ivermectin in his jail and public-facing practices since October. He said in the same interview that he’d heard from the Arkansas Department of Correction that the department didn’t want him to give Ivermectin to its inmates in the detention center — “so we won’t.”
He also said in a Facebook post on Aug. 25 that “patients at Washington County Detention Center are never forced to take medicines and routinely refuse medications which is their right.”
At that point, the ACLU of Arkansas wrote to Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder requesting that he “immediately recognize that the FDA has warned of the risks of this medication for COVID-19 and confirm that you will not permit people detained in your jail to be prescribed this medication contrary to FDA advice.”
A week later, on Wednesday, the ACLU wrote again, saying that it hadn’t heard from the sheriff, but that “it has come to light that many of the detainees and inmates in the jail were not informed that they were being administered ivermectin.”
Helder, who along with Karas Correctional Health has not responded to TPM’s requests for comment on the matter, told the ACLU that due to the threat of litigation, he would limit his response.
“I am, and will continue to, uphold my constitutional duty to detainees in the Washington County Detention Center,” Helder said. “I am not a medical doctor and cannot provide advice or direction on the appropriate dosage or usage of any prescription drug.”