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Washington County Jail gaining national attention after inmates receive anti-parasite drug to treat COVID-19

The jail, along with a local doctor, is being questioned about using Ivermectin, a deworming medication, to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Washington County Detention Center is gaining national attention after allegedly giving inmates Ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug, to treat COVID-19.

The Arkansas Department of Health issued a warning after a surge of people started taking the medication in a form meant for large animals. 

ADH says people are using veterinary-grade Ivermectin to treat COVID-19, but that the drug can be very dangerous because it’s meant to kill parasites in large animals and is not FDA approved for humans.   

Dr. Rob Karas says Karas Correctional Health has treated inmates at the Washington County Jail for six years. He says 531 inmates at the jail have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. Karas says he has prescribed Ivermectin to the inmates. 

Dr. Karas having COVID himself twice and taken Ivermectin, saying it’s very safe.

Dr. Karas told 5NEWS he has had COVID twice and taken Ivermectin both times, saying it's very safe. 

“I’ve given it to my mom before she got vaccinated; she was on it preventatively. My stepmom, my in-laws, my sister, my sister’s kids, thousands of patients we’ve treated with it. I have not experienced any, and we have not seen any bad side effects from it,” said Dr. Karas. 

Dr. Karas says of those more than 500 cases of COVID-19 at the jail, there have been no deaths and only one hospitalization, with the inmate who was hospitalized did not take the medication. Dr. Karas says he understands Ivermectin is not FDA approved to treat COVID and says nothing is FDA approved for treating COVID. He says early outpatient treatment for the virus is important.

“My thoughts are, do you want to try and fight like we’re at the beaches of Normandy, or do you want to tell what a lot of people do and say go home and ride it out and go to the ER when your lips turn blue. So, we fight hard for our patients,” said Dr. Karas. 

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha with the Arkansas Department of Health says Ivermectin is typically prescribed to treat parasites in humans and that it can be prescribed for off-label use.

“The risk and the benefit should be discussed with the doctor who prescribes them. It’s found to be a safe medicine if prescribed properly in the right doses, so those are the issues,” said Dr. Dillaha.

During a finance and budget committee meeting Tuesday, Aug. 24, jail officials were presenting their 2022 budget, which included the jail's physician, Dr. Rob Karas, asking for a 10% increase in the medical services contract.

 This is what led elected official Eva Madison to speak about the issue, according to CBS News. 

Madison told committee members and jail officials that a county employee, who opted to stay anonymous to the public, told her that he was sent to the jail's clinic to get a COVID-19 test. He said after testing negative, he was given a $76 prescription for Ivermectin. 

Credit: Eva Madison

According to CBS News, he was concerned about the medication and asked his primary care physician about it, who told him to throw it in the trash. 

While this individual "had the good fortune to have a physician that he could go to and ask for a second opinion," Madison said at the meeting, "our inmates do not have that choice." 

The FDA continues to warn against the use of Ivermectin in humans to treat COVID-19.

Veterinary-grade Ivermectin is a common deworming medication that kills parasites in large animals like cows and sheep. It can easily be found and purchased over the counter at farm supply stores.  

According to CBS News, Karas Health Care, Dr. Karas' practice, has been touting Ivermectin for months. On July 16, the practice posted on Facebook, "if anybody you know test positive send them or [sic] way and we'll get them started on doxy, singular, ivermectin, vitamin d, vitamin c and zinc." 

The post was flagged by Facebook with the message: "Some unapproved COVID-19 treatments may cause serious harm."

ADH sent the following statement to 5NEWS saying, "Ivermectin is not approved by the FDA for use and treatment in COVID-19, but it is approved for other illnesses and physicians have the ability to prescribe medications for off-label use."

County sheriff, Tim Helder, says he was made aware by Dr. Karas Tuesday afternoon that COVID-positive detainees have been offered Ivermectin.

"The sheriff defended it, said that Karas has been regularly prescribing ivermectin at the jail during the pandemic," Madison said.

5NEWS is working to gather further information regarding the use of Ivermectin in the local jail and will continue to investigate the manner.

RELATED: ADH issues warning about taking drug meant for cattle to treat COVID-19

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