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An Ohio Judge Reverses An Earlier Order Forcing A Hospital To Administer Ivermectin

The FDA, CDC and American Medical Association have all warned against the use of ivermectin (shown here in India) in treating COVID-19 patients.
Soumyabrata Roy
NurPhoto/Getty Images
The FDA, CDC and American Medical Association have all warned against the use of ivermectin (shown here in India) in treating COVID-19 patients.

A judge in Ohio has reversed an earlier emergency order that required a hospital to administer ivermectin to a COVID-19 patient against the hospital's wishes. The anti-parasitic drug is most commonly used in the U.S. as a dewormer in animals.

Federal agencies and medical associations alike have cautioned against the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, as there is little evidence it is effective. But prescriptions — and related calls to poison control centers — have skyrocketed in 2021 as right-wing media have hyped it as a treatment for COVID-19.

A previous ruling by a different judge had ordered the hospital, West Chester Hospital near Cincinnati, to administer the drug to a patient after his wife brought suit over the hospital's refusal to administer a prescription written by an outside doctor.

"After considering all of the evidence presented in this case, there can be no doubt that the medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19," Judge Michael A. Oster wrote in the new ruling, issued Monday.

Ivermectin is used in humans to treat parasites such as lice and the worms that cause river blindness. It is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration for similar use in animals, including as a livestock dewormer and a heartworm preventative for dogs and cats.

But the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Preventionand American Medical Association have all warned against using ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment until additional clinical trials can be completed. The National Institutes of Health, which has not issued a formal recommendation, says most existing studies about the drug's ability to fight COVID-19 "had incomplete information and significant methodological limitations."

At the center of the lawsuit affected by Monday's order is Jeffrey Smith, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July, court records say.

After Smith was admitted to West Chester Hospital, his condition deteriorated steadily. In mid-July, he was transferred to the intensive care unit. On Aug. 1, he was placed on a ventilator. By Aug. 20, doctors put him in a medically induced coma.

His wife, Julie Smith, contacted Dr. Fred Wagshul, affiliated with the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which has lobbied for the use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients. He is not board certified within any specialty and has not worked at a hospital in 10 years, according to his own testimony.

Wagshul provided a prescription for ivermectin, doing so without having seen Smith and despite lacking medical privileges at West Chester Hospital, court records say.

The hospital refused to administer the drug, saying it would interfere with other medications.

When Julie Smith filed suit, a different judge granted an emergency injunction on Aug. 23 that ordered West Chester Hospital to begin administering 30 milligrams daily for 21 days. The Smiths' attorney say that Jeffrey Smith's condition has since improved.

But in another hearing last week, doctors from West Chester Hospital told the court that ivermectin had not helped their patient. Wagshul, testifying on behalf of the Smiths, did not convince the judge otherwise.

"Plaintiff's own witness ... testified that 'I honestly don't know' if continued use of ivermectin will benefit Jeff Smith," Oster wrote in the ruling.

"While this court is sympathetic to the Plaintiff and understands the idea of wanting to do anything to help her loved one, public policy should not and does not support allowing a physician to try 'any' type of treatment on human beings," the judge wrote.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.