Coronavirus

Florida Poison Control Reports Sudden Uptick in Ivermectin Calls

People in Florida are using veterinary formulations of the drug designed for animals that can weigh more than a ton.
People in Florida are using veterinary formulations of the drug designed for animals that can weigh more than a ton. Photo by bearstache/Flickr
Scientific evidence on the efficacy of the controversial drug ivermectin as a potential treatment for COVID-19 remains thin. But as the state grapples with a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases, it seems some Floridians are turning to the medication, which veterinarians commonly use to deworm horses and cows.

Florida's three state-operated Poison Control Centers are reporting a recent spike in calls about ivermectin, with most callers having used a version of the medicine made for animals, says Wendy Stephan, a health education coordinator and epidemiologist for the centers. This month alone, the centers have triaged 27 people for exposure. The most serious cases have resulted in seizures and hospitalizations, she says. Some have involved children.

"We have seen a bunch of cases where people are seeming to try to DIY it for COVID," Stephan tells New Times, "whether it's in the attempt to prevent infection or whether they feel that they're treating a COVID infection with an adapted, off-the-counter approach."

From the end of July through last Saturday, August 21, the number of calls fielded about ivermectin exposure rose from two to 12, according to state data. Stephan says the centers have received several more calls since then.


"Historically, we see maybe one or two calls a month for this drug, and it's kids getting into things in the barn or someone mistaking one thing for another," Stephan says. "But not the sort of intentional, more widespread use that we're seeing recently."
click to enlarge A graph showing the recent rise in calls to Florida's Poison Control Centers about ivermectin exposure. - COURTESY OF FLORIDA'S POISON CONTROL CENTERS
A graph showing the recent rise in calls to Florida's Poison Control Centers about ivermectin exposure.
Courtesy of Florida's Poison Control Centers
Health officials in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas have also reported surges in calls about people poisoning themselves with ivermectin. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just about begged people to stop taking the drug to treat COVID-19.

"You are not a horse. You are not a cow," the FDA recently tweeted. "Seriously, y'all. Stop it."
According to the FDA, the drug is mainly used to treat or prevent parasites in animals. In an article appropriately titled "Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19," the FDA warns against the dangers of using the drug as a COVID-19 treatment – advising that doing so can cause serious harm.

Though the FDA has not approved ivermectin for COVID-19, the drug has been touted on right-wing media as a potential treatment. Last June, researchers in Australia found that high doses of ivermectin suppressed the coronavirus in cell cultures. But more recent studies found that the drug does not speed recovery in patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

Stephan says it's concerning to see people in Florida and across the nation use veterinary formulations of the drug that are designed for creatures that can weigh more than a ton. Such concentrations, she notes, are not the normal dose for humans.

"Historically, we see maybe one or two calls a month for this drug, and it's kids getting into things in the barn or someone mistaking one thing for another."

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"But because it's accessible without a prescription, or more easily accessible to your average person who decides to take it outside the supervision of a doctor, we are seeing these cases," Stephan says.

This isn't the first time Florida's Poison Control Centers have fielded an unusual pattern of COVID-related calls. Last year, the state's centers saw an uptick in calls, emails, and social-media messages from people asking how to safely digest cleaning products to treat the virus after then-President Donald Trump publicly mused about disinfectants as a COVID-19 treatment.

Stephan urges anyone who is considering taking the drug to call the centers. She says there is "no judgment," and that clinicians are available 24/7 to answer any questions.

The toll-free number for Florida's Poison Control Centers is 800-222-1222.
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