LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Medical Board has opened an investigation following reports that inmates at a county jail were prescribed an anti-parasitic drug to combat COVID-19 even though it hasn’t been approved to treat the coronavirus.

Board Director Amy Embry on Thursday declined to elaborate on the panel’s investigation, which she said began in the last two days. Embry said the investigation came in response to multiple complaints related to news reports about the use of ivermectin at the Washington County jail.

Washington County’s sheriff confirmed Tuesday night that jail inmates had been prescribed ivermectin, but did not say how many. It wasn’t clear if all the inmates who were prescribed the medication had tested positive for COVID-19.

“There is an open investigation and we can’t comment on it right now,” Embry told The Associated Press.

Dr. Rob Karas, the jail’s physician, has said no inmates were forced to take the the drug.

Karas responded to KNWA/FOX24 with a statement Thursday which can be read below:

My name is Dr. Robert Karas.  I am a licensed medical doctor and operate two urgent care clinics in Northwest Arkansas.  Additionally, I (along with a large and dedicated staff) provide all medical services to detainees at the Washington County Jail through my company Karas Correctional Health, PLLC.  Yesterday it was brought to my attention that a local politician questioned my practice of prescribing Ivermectin to COVID-19 patients in the Washington County Jail.  Following the ensuing news coverage, I have received numerous requests for interviews and comments.  I am too busy treating sick patients to respond to every inquiry and, quite frankly, am concerned that media attention will only serve to further politicize a non-political issue to the detriment of the sick patients I see every day. 

The COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world.  The original strain of the virus and the new Delta variant represent a public health crisis that has strained the resources of our communities and healthcare systems.  While the entire country has suffered tremendously, the virus poses a particularly high risk here in Arkansas as a result of low vaccination rates.  My overworked staff and I have cared for thousands of COVID patients including family members and friends over the course of the last year and a half.  Like all medical providers, we have watched some of those patients become hospitalized, intubated and die.   The development of safe and effective vaccines has been a tremendous asset in the fight against COVID, and the research as well as my personal observations suggest that the vaccines are tremendously effective in preventing serious illness among the infected, and that they represent our best first line of defense against the virus.  However, the availability of vaccines does not change the day-to-day reality of caring for sick patients.

In late 2020, we began what I consider compassionate use of Ivermectin as part of a comprehensive plan of care for both clinic and jail patients who had become significantly sick from COVID.  Ivermectin is an antiparasitic medication with a lengthy track record of safe administration around the world.  Over the last forty years, it is estimated that four billion doses have been administered – primarily to patients with parasitic infections in developing countries.  Ivermectin has FDA approved on-label uses in humans in the United States, and dosing schedules and side effect profiles are well understood.  While the medication has not been approved by the FDA for treatment of COVID-19 patients, in-vitro and controlled studies as well as a significant amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that Ivermectin may significantly improve outcomes for critically sick COVID-19 patients.

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.  I do not have the luxury of conducting my own clinical trial or study and am not attempting to do so.  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. 

I do not own an interest in any pharmacy and receive no benefits whatsoever from prescribing Ivermectin.  It is a generic medication.  I have no ambitions or agenda other than caring for the sick.  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.  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.  Ultimately this is a national health crisis and not a political issue, and I will continue striving for the best outcomes possible for my patients. 

Dr. Rob Karas

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

Embry declined to say who was the target of the board’s investigation. The board has authority over physicians, but not jail facilities.