BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) - Across the country, more and more state health departments and poison control centers are issuing warnings about the drug Ivermectin.
Doctors say people are using the drug, which is intended to kill parasites in humans and livestock, to try to treat or prevent COVID-19. This is despite the fact that the FDA and CDC have said evidence does not show it is effective in combating the virus, and that side effects could be dangerous.
On Wednesday, the Oregon Poison Center sent a news release that said it is fielding a "substantial number of calls" about Ivermectin, adding that the center managed nine "intentional misuse" cases so far in August, compared to only three cases in all of 2020.
Intentional misuse is when somebody, on purpose, uses a drug for something other than the drug's intended use or treatment.
"People can develop symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, but also more severe symptoms like low blood pressure, coma and seizures," Oregon Poison Center Medical Director Dr. Robert Hendrickson said.
Oregon isn't alone. The CDC reports that in the second week of August, there were more than 88,000 prescriptions reported nationwide. That's more than double the previous prescription peak in January, and 24 times higher than the number of prescriptions written before the pandemic.
Ivermectin is approved by the FDA to treat parasitic worms and some skin conditions. Some studies and unfinished trials circulating online are suggesting that the drug could help cure or prevent COVID-19.
"What we're concerned about is that people might be taking this without their physician's advice, that they may be taking the wrong dose, and it could lead to severe toxicity," Hendrickson said.
Turns out, some Oregon physicians are prescribing it.
A viewer sent FOX 12 a generic email blast from a medical clinic in Salem that says it has been getting more than 100 emails per day about Ivermectin.
The email says, in part, "Please understand that in order to receive a prescription for Ivermectin the doctor is required to have a risk vs benefit conversation with you."
It goes on to say, "The doctor cannot do this via email and cannot write you a prescription without following the protocol. If this is something you are desiring, please call the office to schedule an appointment with the doctor."
FOX 12 called the medical clinic, but they declined to comment.
Many pharmacists FOX 12 reached out to also declined an interview about whether or not they were filling scripts for Ivermectin for uses other than parasitic worms.
"We're kind of in a gray area," Beaverton Pharmacist Wade Irby said.
Irby told FOX 12 that Beaverton Pharmacy has been getting plenty of phone calls about Ivermectin, and that the business is getting a shipment of it soon.
The Oregon Board of Pharmacy sent an update earlier this month to members that mentioned that Ivermectin has not yet been proven safe and effective against COVID-19, but also that "pharmacists receiving prescriptions for ivermectin for the treatment or prevention COVID-19 should use their professional judgment in determining whether to fill them."
"We can just flat out refuse it, I mean that's within our power to do it," Irby said. "But typically what happens is we'll communicate with the prescriber about it, let them know what's going on, what we've discovered about it."
Irby said he plans on looking at prescriptions on a case-by-case basis, despite the state and federal warnings.
"There's quite a bit of information out there exploring these things," Irby said.
Several Latin American countries that are lagging on vaccinations have been giving patients Ivermectin as potential protection against COVID-19, but experts say peer-reviewed evidence on its efficacy is still in short supply.
Some experts have criticized the existing studies examining the effectiveness of Ivermectin against COVID-19, saying they haven't been done on a large-enough scale. One study, which was published this summer, was withdrawn from publication after plagiarism and other concerns were raised.
Other local pharmacists told FOX 12 they've been overwhelmed with the amount of people inquiring about Ivermectin. Some say they also will look at prescriptions on a case-by-case basis unless further information or guidance comes out, while others have said they will not fill any prescriptions for it outside of the drug's intended use.
Hendrickson said people are also turning to the drug meant for livestock, which can be found at feed stores. Pharmacists agree that consuming a medication meant for large animals is even more dangerous, because the product is often highly concentrated and can lead to an easier overdose.
So what can people who have COVID-19 take for treatment? The FDA has approved Veklury (remdesivir) for adults and certain child patients with COVID-19 who are sick enough to need hospitalization. The drug should only be given in a hospital or health care setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care.
The FDA has also given Emergency Use Authorization to several monoclonal antibody treatments, which basically act as antibodies to help patients with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 who may be at high risk of hospitalization.
Overall, health care professionals around the world say the best line of defense against COVID-19 is getting vaccinated.