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Animal feed suppliers are running out of a horse deworming drug because people want it for COVID

Health officials say side effects of ivermectin can include uncontrollable seizures and even death.

Animal feed suppliers are running out of a horse deworming drug because people want it for COVID
[Photo: Vincent Botta/Unsplash]
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It’s hard to believe, “Please don’t treat yourself with horse dewormer tablets from Tractor Supply” is a warning Americans need to hear. But demand for ivermectin, whose primary use is for eradicating parasites in livestock, has reached the level where there’s now a run on the drug. Ivermectin is occasionally prescribed to humans for head lice and other parasites, but only in small doses, and has not been shown to protect against COVID-19. Yet, a growing number of animal feed suppliers nationwide, where the drug is available in highly concentrated forms, say they’re seriously out.

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Twelve Oklahoma City Tractor Supply stores tell news channel KFOR there’s none left, and they can’t resupply. (One noted, “We even have ‘Please don’t eat’ signs up.”) In Tallahassee, one store had to scrawl “STORE” across the label of its single remaining bottle. Ivermectin—whose side effects health officials say can include uncontrollable seizures and even death—is apparently flying off shelves in Memphis, too. And despite hanging a “Do not take this” sign, Las Vegas store V&V Tack and Feed says people still show up explaining they’re on the “Ivermectin Plan” and demanding it. According to the store, one recent customer saw V&V’s caution sign and actually countered, “Well, we’ve been taking it, and my only side effect is I can’t see in the morning.”

Stock on Amazon is even low—perhaps the truest barometer of panic-buying. The site’s obscure Equestrian Sports department has maybe never seen demand like this.

Ivermectin shows no effectiveness for treating COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped individuals on Reddit and Facebook from recommending it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also says people are getting it from their doctors. It released data on Thursday showing a sharp increase in ivermectin prescriptions. Prior to the pandemic, the average was 3,600 prescriptions per week. The most recent number, for mid-August, had jumped to more than 88,000.

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Backers argue the drug has antiviral effects that might inhibit replication of SARS-CoV-2, but they’re leaving out a key bit of information, according to the CDC: Even if it were effective, the dosage would probably be toxic. The horse and sheep version, in particular, comes in a more concentrated paste or liquid form. Unsurprisingly, calls to poison control centers nationwide have risen dramatically as well; the CDC plots a fivefold increase since July.

Officials must be bewildered by the number of Americans taking seemingly stranger and stranger drugs to treat COVID-19. But that’s why the CDC and NIH are cautioning people to leave horse dewormers to vets and farmers, and the FDA even weighed in a week and a half ago to make its own position pretty clear: