DANIA BEACH, Fla. – Recent claims that a de-worming medication used for animals can also prevent or treat COVID-19 has led to a steep increase in demand of the product, while also sending people to the hospital.
At Finish Line Feeds in Dania Beach, tubes of ivermectin are flying off the shelves at lightning speed.
“It’s incredible how many people come in and say, ‘Oh, do you have ivermectin?’ and they just grab whatever and pay for it and go,” said Finish Line Feeds manager Cheryl Capo.
To prevent shortages similar to what many feed stores are seeing around the state, Capo has resorted to limiting how much of the medication customers can buy.
“We have reduced how much we keep on the shelf and keep it in the background due to so many people wanting to buy so much,” she said.
The de-worming drug is FDA approved to treat internal and external parasites in pigs, horses and dogs.
It can also be used, with a doctor’s prescription, for similar conditions in humans.
Toxicology experts say the animal dose, in all its forms, is not safe for human consumption, and no version of the drug has been approved for use against COVID-19.
“There’s certainly no 20,000-pound person, double blind, adequately controlled study looking at the benefit of this drugs and its risks,” said Dr. Lewis Nelson with the Department of Emergency Surgery at the University of Rutgers Medical School.
That hasn’t stopped people from buying it and getting sick from it, which has led to a dramatic doubling in calls to Florida’s poison control hotline.
Misuse of ivermectin can lead to mild gastrointestinal symptoms or more serious reactions including dizziness, low blood pressure and a drop in respiratory rate.
Overdoses can affect the central nervous system, causing a loss of consciousness, seizures, coma and even death.
“Prevention is always better than treatment, so even if it were to turn out that ivermectin is an effective treatment, which it doesn’t have any support for at this point, getting vaccinated is still a much better option,” said Dr. Nelson.
There have been abuses of other non-approved products, including people drinking bleach and hand sanitizer, but some are even overdoing supplements like Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc, which can have negative side effects in high doses.
“I think it’s crazy that people want to take a horse de-wormer rather than a vaccine,” said Capo.
To contact the poison control hotline, call 1-800-222-1222.