Off-label use of the anti-parasite drug has surged over the last few weeks as the delta variant has driven up infections across the US. During a single week in August, US pharmacies filled 88,000 prescriptions for the drug.
Gaylord Lopez, executive director of the Georgia Poison Center, says they are getting a lot of calls right now about ivermectin.
"We've had 45 calls just in the month of August for ivermectin," Lopez says. "They're people who are looking for more information on ivermectin, people who have already taken ivermectin, and even health professionals wanting to know the proper dose that needs to be given. So, the questions are coming in fast and furiously."
This comes as unsubstantiated claims are circulating on the internet that the drug, originally used to treat parasites like heartworms in animals, can prevent or treat COVID-19 infections.
Lopez says people are searching for the active ingredients in the drug online and are trying to treat themselves.
"Not surprisingly, they're finding these products in feed and livestock stores," Lopez says. "We've even had patients text us the images of the bottles that say 'for sheep and cattle only' and (they) take that stuff, despite knowing it's for animals.
Lopez says ivermectin has been cleared by the FDA for certain uses in people.
"Ivermectin has been used in our society for a number of years, but for parasites, and for lice, and for skin conditions," he says. "But, right now, studying is ongoing for COVID, and, in due time, we'll know better."
Lopez says using the drug off-label or treating yourself with a livestock drug is risky.
"Remember, these products are highly concentrated," he says. "It's very difficult to figure out the proper dose. We've seen people start complaining of headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, double vision. In higher doses, it can affect the heart, the nervous system."
At Little Five Points Pharmacy, owner and pharmacist Ira Katz is also getting requests for ivermectin, but these scripts are being sent in by doctors.
"I've seen more prescriptions for ivermectin in the last week than I have in the last 10 years," he says.
Katz says the prescriptions are typically written for higher than the recommended doses of the drug.
"Based on the quantity and based on the dosage, I know exactly what it's for," he says.
If he suspects ivermectin is being prescribed for COVID-19, Katz says, he will not fill the prescription.
"I've denied all of them, yes," he says. "This is a drug. It presents with adverse effects."
If you want to protect yourself, Katz says, ivermectin is not the answer, at least for now.
"My only advice is to please, please, get the vaccine," he says. "It's out there, and it's free."
If you have questions about ivermectin, or suspect you may have taken too much of the drug, Lopez recommends calling the Georgia Poison Center's 24-hour helpline at 1-800-222-1222.
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