Ivermectin Prescriptions Surge, but People Aren't Saying Why They Want It

Ivermectin prescriptions are on the rise with many people arriving at pharmacies refusing to say what their prescription is for, according to health officials.

The anti-parasitic drug has made headlines this year after trials suggested it may be effective as a COVID treatment.

But while the drug has been approved for use in humans to treat conditions such as some parasitic worm infections and headlice, ivermectin has not been approved for use as a COVID treatment.

As such, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. have both warned against its use—or misuse.

This hasn't stopped people from trying. Prescription data shows that ivermectin dispensing reached 88,000 prescriptions in the week ending August 13—a 24-fold increase from before the pandemic.

In Australia, too, pharmacists have increasingly reported cases of customers turning up with ivermectin prescriptions. When asked what they are going to use the prescription for, some customers were "unwilling or unable" to answer, a Pharmaceutical Society of Australia spokesperson told The Guardian newspaper this week.

The paper also reported that Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration has observed a more than tenfold increase in detections of imports of ivermectin into the country.

The increase has caused concern among some medical professionals, partly due to the fact that ivermectin is still unapproved as a COVID treatment and partly because of incidents in which people are overdosing on it and becoming sick.

Australia's chief medical officer professor Paul Kelly told The Guardian that people should "absolutely and categorically" not take unproven medicine as COVID treatments after a patient was hospitalized in Sydney with vomiting and diarrhea having overdosed on ivermectin.

In the U.S., the CDC issued a health advisory on August 26 noting that retail pharmacies have increasingly been dispensing ivermectin through the COVID pandemic.

The health agency noted that adverse health effects associated with ivermectin misuse and overdoses were also on the increase, with poison control centers reporting a three-fold increase in calls for "human exposures to ivermectin" in January this year compared to before the pandemic.

Fetal damage has also been observed in animal studies.

Part of the issue is that some ivermectin formulations are for veterinary use only and are intended to be given to large animals such as horses or cattle. Such products can be highly concentrated, resulting in overdoses and toxic effects in humans.

Overdose can result in stomach symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea but also confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and even death, the CDC states.

The FDA highlighted its concerns in a tweet in August, writing: "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it."

Despite this, ivermectin has gained support from some such as the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance group, which strongly calls for its use.

A notable study suggesting that ivermectin may be useful as a COVID treatment from an April 2020 lab trial at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, found that ivermectin was able to stop a COVID sample growing in the lab within 48 hours.

However, the university released a statement stressing that the drug cannot be used to treat COVID until further testing has been completed to establish its effectiveness at safe levels.

A stock photo shows a pharmacist taking medication off of a shelf. There has been an increase in people asking for ivermectin since the start of the pandemic. MJ_Prototype/Getty