State Rep. Scott Wiggam. Photo from the Ohio House.
An Ohio House committee chairman leaned into the director of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy Wednesday for his decision to echo a CDC warning against ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.
Ivermectin is a drug used as an antiparasitic in humans that conservative political and media figures have championed as a preventative and treatment for COVID-19.
Health officials at the CDC and FDA, associations of physicians and pharmacists, and the drug’s manufacturer have all warned against the use of ivermectin in connection with COVID-19. They emphasize there’s no reliable evidence to support the use of the antiparasitic in connection with the viral disease.
House State and Local Government Committee Chairman Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, asked Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Steven Schierholt on Wednesday what kind of legislation would be needed to help Ohioans access ivermectin, even if pharmacists decline to fill the prescription.
He cited an Aug. 26 OBP newsletter that re-circulated a health alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting there’s “insufficient data” to support the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
“I know individuals that no longer were able to get ivermectin based upon this from the pharmacists,” Wiggam said.
The CDC’s health alert also warned of a 24-fold surge in prescriptions of the drug and a threefold increase in calls to poison control centers regarding ivermectin exposure. The overdoses include both veterinary and human formulations of the drug. The alert came as media reports indicated people who couldn’t access human formulations of the drug turned to animal formulations — including deworming pastes sold at farm supply stores.
Schierholt attended the hearing to satisfy a state law passed in 2018 that requires the head of all state occupational licensing boards to come before lawmakers and demonstrate a “public need for [the board’s] continued existence,” including whether they’re necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.
Responding to Wiggam, Schierholt warned against deregulating the drug dispensing system just to ease access to ivermectin.
“I think to write legislation that would take away that professional judgement, I think, is removing a safeguard that is necessary,” he said. “Pharmacists spot drug interactions that a particular physician may not have seen because they’re not treating the patient for some other ailment. I think it would remove a safeguard because of this one issue, and I think it could jeopardize public health.”
Wiggam insisted on the drug’s safety, noting that the U.S. government prescribes it to refuges from Afghanistan. The CDC recommends that refugees from Asia (where Afghanistan is located) take ivermectin for two days as a presumptive treatment against parasites.
“So, it’s pretty well prescribed, I’ve got several articles that I’ve read on that,” Wiggam said.
The other lawmakers on their committee confined their questions to Schierholt on the board’s continuing education requirements for pharmacists; drug supply shortages; and similar, niche issues.
Wiggam did not respond to a call to his office.
“As we’ve indicated, the Board has no formal policy or position on the dispensing of ivermectin pursuant to a valid prescription,” said Board of Pharmacy spokesman Cameron McNamee. “The August statement was distributed in coordination with ODH as an effort to push out relevant messaging coming from federal agencies.”
Ivermectin is the latest frontier of a COVID-19 culture war egged on by conservative figures like U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., or Laura Ingraham of Fox News questioning the science behind masks and vaccination and hyping up fringe treatments like hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin.
Researchers reviewed 26 studies on ivermectin use for COVID-19 including randomized control trials and observational studies. They found at least one third of them showed serious errors or signs of potential fraud, and none of the rest show convincing evidence of the drug’s effectiveness, according to a BBC report.
Antonio Ciaccia, CEO of industry researcher 46brooklyn, said lawmakers regulating the industry need to strike a fine balance. They need to give pharmacists the space to do their job, which can include prescribing drugs for off-label use. But they also need to keep bad actors and quackery out of the profession, which requires guardrails.
The hyper-politicized nature of ivermectin isn’t helping.
“Politics can create an ugly Venn diagram over the autonomous practice of medicine,” he said.
In late August, an Ohio woman sued a Cincinnati hospital that refused to honor a prescription for ivermectin for her husband Jeffrey Smith, 51, then on a ventilator with COVID-19. Both were unvaccinated, according to her testimony. An emergency judicial order compelled the hospital to give him ivermectin for nearly two weeks, before a common pleas judge reversed the ruling.
Judge Michael Oster said there’s insufficient evidence to show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19, and the hospital has no duty to give it out against its physicians’ judgement.
Last month, Ohio Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware said he will soon introduce what he called the “COVID-19 alternative therapies act” that will prevent discrimination against or censorship of “alternative” treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.