Authorities have said it before and they'll say it again: Ivermectin is not an approved treatment for COVID-19, and people definitely shouldn't be taking medicine designed for horses. Officials in New Mexico say calls to poison control centers about the drug have soared over the last year and misuse of the medication has been linked to at least two deaths, the New York Times reports. Dr. David R. Scrase, acting head of the state health department, says 14 people were hospitalized after taking the drug and two of them died. Scrase says the two patients, 38 and 79 years old, had COVID-19 and took the drug instead of approved treatments. He says ivermectin caused kidney failure in one of the patients.
Ivermectin is generally used as a dewormer for horses and other livestock, though other forms of it are also used to treat head lice and other parasites in humans. Susan Smolinske, director of the New Mexico Drug and Information Center, says most of this year's 20 reported cases of ivermectin poisoning have been in the last few weeks, reports KOB. "We've had cases of seizures, hallucinations, coma; you know it can be very dangerous if you take a high enough dose," Smolinske says. She says most cases used to involve children eating chewable tablets meant for dogs, but poison centers are now seeing more cases of adults taking highly concentrated paste forms of ivermectin meant for horses.
Nationwide, the American Association of Poison Control Centers says 1,440 cases of ivermectin poisoning have been reported so far this year, most of them after the drug was promoted as a COVID treatment by conspiracy theorists including Alex Jones, per the Times. In Mississippi, authorities say around 70% of calls to poison centers now involve ivermectin. The FDA says ivermectin has not been shown to be safe or effective as a COVID treatment for people—or animals. "Don't take something that has no data to prevent a disease, where we have effective preventative therapies for this disease," Smolinske says. "We have vaccines, we have masks, we have social distancing, we know those things work." (Read more ivermectin stories.)