The Arkansas doctor in charge of medical care at a county jail in Fayetteville has defended his practice of prescribing inmates with dewormer as a COVID-19 preventative, despite an FDA warning that Americans “should not” use the drug for COVID.
“There’s a greater risk of dying from COVID than there is dying from the medication,” Rob Karas, founder of Karas Correctional Health and a doctor in the area, told Channel 5, the local CBS affiliate, in an interview Wednesday — though the FDA has stressed that the drug has not been approved to fight COVID.
The doctor said he’s been using the deworming drug, Ivermectin, as a COVID-19 treatment in the jail and in his public-facing medical practice since October, and as a preventative measure since January. He cited the influence of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, a group that’s pushed false claims about the drug’s efficacy.
Asked if it was safe to use the drug as a long-term prophylactic, Karas said simply, “so far, it seems to be.”
Karas and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, came under fire from county and state officials Wednesday after word got out about Karas’ prescription regimen. The sheriff’s office referred TPM to Karas on Wednesday, and the doctor did not return an email seeking comment.
Washington County Attorney Brian Lester, however, told TPM that Karas and his practice had done a “really good job” of taking care of people in the county jail.
“If there was a medical malpractice lawsuit filed, sure, then we’ve got a different issue. But that’s the thing, there’s not,” he said. “If we were talking about someone that has died because of a treatment that was given that was maybe not FDA-approved, this would be a completely different conversation.”
“As an attorney, the liability here, in what’s happened, there’s nothing,” Lester added later. “People are doing well and his survival rate’s 100%. Knock on wood, I pray that that doesn’t change.”
Ivermectin has become a popular off-label COVID-19 treatment and preventative, even though the data doesn’t support its use. Much like hydroxychloroquine before it, the drug has been promoted among right-wing media, Republican political figures and the vaccine hesitant.
It’s become so sought-after, in fact, that some have resorted to taking it in its veterinary form, emptying feed stores of medicine that’s otherwise used to address parasites in cows and horses — leading to a spike in poison control calls and other unfortunate situations. Arkansas’ department of health warned against taking livestock Ivermectin in a bulletin Tuesday, a couple days after the FDA pleaded with Americans not to take horse drugs.
Karas, who prescribes the version meant for deworming humans, told Channel 5 that no inmates were forced to take Ivermectin and that only one person in the jail had been hospitalized with COVID, out of more than 500 positive cases since the pandemic began.
Of the rush on veterinary medicine supplies, Karas said, “It’s sad, but when you’re desperate, desperate people do desperate things.”
He also noted that while he hasn’t gotten any pushback from the county sheriff’s department, the Arkansas Department of Corrections had asked him to stop prescribing Ivermectin to state inmates in the jail.
“ADC doesn’t want us using it on their inmates, so we won’t,” he said.
Responding to the doctor’s interview, Amy Madison, the county official who blew the whistle on Karas’ Ivermectin use, told TPM that she was “relieved” that he confirmed detainees in the county aren’t forced to take the drug.
But, she added, “His video confirms he is basically experimenting on our detainees and touting the results of his ‘research.'”