Detainees at an Arkansas jail who had Covid-19 were unknowingly treated by the detention center’s doctor with ivermectin, a drug that health officials have continually said is dangerous and should not be used to treat or prevent a coronavirus infection, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four detainees.
The four men — Dayman Blackburn, Julio Gonzales, Jeremiah Little and Edrick Floreal-Wooten — say in the lawsuit that after testing positive for the coronavirus in August, they were taken to the “quarantine block” of the Washington County Detention Center and given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by Dr. Robert Karas, who runs Karas Correctional Health, the jail’s health provider.
The complaint, filed this month in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, says that the men took the drugs — which Dr. Karas told them consisted of vitamins, antibiotics and steroids — unaware that they were actually ingesting ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug commonly used for livestock that the Food and Drug Administration has warned should not be taken for Covid-19.
Dr. Karas, Sheriff Tim Helder and the Washington County Detention Center — all named as defendants in the lawsuit — did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment on Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that the jail had been giving ivermectin to detainees as early as November 2020. In August 2021, amid surging demand for the drug, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that ivermectin was “not authorized or approved” for any type of Covid treatment.
Misinformation that ivermectin is effective at treating or preventing coronavirus infection has run rampant across social media during the pandemic, and the inaccuracies have led some people to overdose on certain formulations of the drug, according to the F.D.A.
Dr. Karas appears to have bought into the misinformation for months, saying in an interview in August that he used the drug himself when sick with Covid. He posted as recently as Dec. 24 on his practice’s Facebook page that he was using ivermectin to treat people with Covid.
“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” Mr. Karas said in a Facebook post on Saturday.
He added that “inmates aren’t dumb,” and that in the future other detainees would sue their facilities to request the “same treatment we’re using at WCDC — including the ivermectin.”
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They became aware of what they were taking only after the sheriff told the Quorum Court Finance and Budget Committee of Washington County in August that detainees were indeed being treated for Covid with ivermectin, said Holly Dickson, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arkansas.
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“This is really beyond the pale that the F.D.A. and C.D.C. would warn against this treatment and that the doctor would prescribe it and administer it anyway — and do it without their knowledge or consent,” Ms. Dickson said on Monday.
The detainees could have refused the medication, but many did not because they believed they were taking approved and safe Covid treatments, Ms. Dickson said.
She added that after the American Civil Liberties Union began to raise questions about the practice last year, the jail tried to get inmates to sign forms saying that they retroactively consented to the treatments.
It was then, she said, that detainees began asking: “What is it that you’re giving me?”
“What we’re seeking is a declaration that this was unlawful, and they cannot continue to do this,” Ms. Dickson said.
The four men are also seeking evaluation by another medical professional, as well as reimbursement for legal fees.