State medical board investigates use of ivermectin to fight covid at Washington County jail

The exterior of the Washington County jail. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Prisoners in the Washington County jail said Thursday that they are refusing to take ivermectin after learning the drug was part of the covid-19 treatment program at the facility.

"That changed last night," Edrick Floreal-Wooten said during a telephone interview. "Last night they asked us, 'Do you want to take the pill or not?' I said, 'No ma'am, I do not.' There are 20 other inmates in this pod they've been giving it to. Everyone is refusing to take it."

The state Medical Board is investigating the use of ivermectin in the jail, according to a statement from Amy Embry, director.

"The Arkansas State Medical Board has an open investigation regarding Dr. Robert Karas," according to the statement from Embry. "It is the policy of the board not to comment on open investigations. Once the investigation is complete, the information will be provided to the full board to review and to be discussed at the next scheduled board meeting. No additional information is available at this time."

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved ivermectin for use by people and animals for some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions. The FDA hasn't approved its use in treating or preventing covid-19 in humans.

Sheriff Tim Helder has said he only learned Tuesday that ivermectin was being used. Helder has said the jail's medical staff has done good work throughout the pandemic and he will not dictate the details of medical treatment of detainees.

Kelly Cantrell, public information officer for the sheriff's office, said any information on the treatment plan or comment on the state investigation would have to come from Karas.

In a statement released Thursday, Karas defended his use of ivermectin to treat covid-19. Karas said he has prescribed it to inmates and patients at his clinics since late 2020.

"In my medical judgment, weighing the known risks and side effect profile of ivermectin against the potential benefits supports the administration of ivermectin (which we obtained from a licensed pharmacist in dosages and compounds formulated for humans) to covid-19 patients," Karas said.

"I do not have the luxury of conducting my own clinical trial or study and am not attempting to do so," Karas said. "I am on the front line of trying to prevent death and serious illness. I am proud of our track record in both of my clinics and at the jail in particular, where not one single patient of the five hundred plus who have followed our plan of care has been hospitalized, intubated or died."

Karas also urged people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus and warned them against any self-medication.

"I continue to urge the public to get vaccinated, to get tested if symptoms are present or exposure has occurred, and to seek the immediate medical care and advice of a licensed physician if you feel sick," he said. "Medications such as ivermectin should only be prescribed by a doctor, and self-administering over the counter or improperly sourced ivermectin is foolish and dangerous."

Floreal-Wooten is being held in the jail for 90 days on a parole violation. The jail log shows he has a number of violations pending in Fayetteville District Court. He said Thursday that he was tested for covid-19 when he was booked into the jail July 17 and that test was negative, with no sign of infection. Three subsequent tests also were negative, he said. Another test Saturday showed a positive result.

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Floreal-Wooten said that the next morning he was included in the "med call" at the jail.

"They offered me a handful of pills," Floreal-Wooten said. "I asked what they were and they told me it was steroids, antibiotics and vitamins. They said this will help you get over covid. I figured Washington County was trying to help me, so I took them."

Floreal-Wooten said the routine continued for the next few days, but Wednesday he was told by family members that detainees were being given ivermectin. He said that when he asked specifically about ivermectin, the medical workers confirmed that the drug was part of the treatment program and allowed him to refuse the medication.

Floreal-Wooten said that he hadn't been vaccinated before being booked into the jail. He said he contracted covid in August 2020. He said his reaction after receiving the medication at the jail was different from how he had felt when he first had covid.

"It gave me strong abdominal pains and I lost my appetite," he said. "I've had covid before and it wasn't like this. I didn't eat hardly anything after they gave me the pills. Today I was able to eat a little bit."

Other detainees and family members described a similar situation in emails, saying detainees were told the pills were vitamins and when they later asked specifically about ivermectin, they were allowed to discontinue the medication.

Floreal-Wooten said he believes detainees were taken advantage of and given an unapproved treatment without their knowledge or consent.

"I figured I was in here to serve my little 90-day commit," he said. "I didn't figure Washington County was going to make me an experiment and use drugs the CDC didn't recommend. I'm not livestock. I'm a human being."