The head of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information on Monday advised Oklahomans to avoid self-medicating with drugs intended to deworm livestock in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19 in human beings.
"I'm troubled about people using ivermectin in an over-the-counter use -- for example, going to the feed store," said Scott Schaeffer, the managing director for the state poison center. "Primarily because they're doing it on their own and they're using very large doses. They're using concentrations that are intended for very large animals like cattle and horses. They're doing it without, typically, the knowledge of their physicians, and there is significant potential for very large, massive overdoses of ivermectin."
Schaeffer said their hotline has received 10 calls to date regarding ingestion of the drug in connection with the unproven belief it can aid in the treatment of COVID-19.
Taken in large doses like those prescribed for livestock, Schaeffer said ivermectin can cause seizures, brain damage, acidosis and other potential problems in humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also urged Americans not to take the drug, tweeting, "You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it," alongside a link to more information about ivermectin.
Schaeffer said the Oklahoma hotline has also received calls from people suffering from overdoses of hydroxychloroquine, another drug that has been touted as a COVID-19 cure despite no evidence suggesting its effectiveness and is found in products like aquarium cleaning solutions.
Schaeffer said that while his hotline teams' ability to field routine calls had not yet been impacted by the volume of calls they've gotten for various COVID folk remedies, he recognizes that as a possibility.
"Up until now, calls about ivermectin and other over-the-counter interventions or treatments for COVID-19 have not compromised our ability to phone calls," he said. "If we had a tremendous influx, like has been reported in Mississippi, absolutely it would take our experts' ability to help physicians and nurses who are treating patients in the hospital, as well as our bread-and-butter: the parents of the child who's gotten into a medication. It would severely inhibit our ability to adequately provide care for them."
Schaeffer said he understood that people are concerned and scared about the pandemic, but they should rely on medical professionals rather than unsourced claims of "miracle cures."
"COVID-19 is a scary disease. We can't see it. We read about it and hear the news every single day about it," Schaeffer said. "We can't let that fear drive us to using unapproved medications, medications that don't have any scientific basis for use that are poorly, or not even, studied in humans. We need to contact our physicians. Go to someone we trust in the medical field who knows our medical history, knows all the medications we're on, and will -- hopefully -- stick with a sound, rational, scientifically based treatment."
Schaeffer added that Oklahomans should also remember that masking is "far and away" the most proven, effective non-pharmaceutical way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.