People who were incarcerated in Arkansas and contracted COVID-19 said a jail doctor doled out high doses of the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin by disguising it as “vitamins,” “steroids” or “antibiotics.”
Now they’re suing.
The Washington County Detention Center, Sheriff Tim Helder and jail physician Dr. Robert Karas were hit with a complaint in federal court on Jan. 13, alleging they deprived incarcerated individuals the right to consent to their own medical treatment by secretly prescribing a drug the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically warns against using as a treatment for COVID-19.
Ivermectin has historically been used to treat diseases such as river blindness or scabies in humans and, in some formulations, to prevent heartworm disease and other infestations in animals. But it has not received federal approval for treating COVID-19, and the FDA has repeatedly urged people not to use ivermectin for such purposes, citing its potentially dangerous side effects and a lack of data supporting its effectiveness.
“No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation,” Gary Sullivan, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed.
A representative from the detention center declined to comment on pending litigation, and Helder and Karas did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Jan. 18.
In a post on his private practice’s Facebook page two days after the lawsuit was filed, Karas acknowledged they “made the news again this week.”
“Still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he said. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing(sic) their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC — including the Ivermectin. “
‘Like we’re livestock’
The allegations against Karas and the detention center date to August, when CBS News reported Karas was under investigation by the Arkansas State Medical Board after an elected official sounded the alarm about the ivermectin treatment during a county finance and budget committee meeting, in which Karas was reportedly seeking a 10% increase in his medical services contract with the detention center.
"They said they were vitamins": When this inmate at a Washington County, Arkansas jail had COVID, medical personnel offered him pills to help him “get better” — but, he says, nobody told him it was ivermectin https://t.co/qn9bWONwHX pic.twitter.com/Yq1OAsVmHG
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 7, 2021
Several incarcerated individuals repeated the claims in interviews with CBS in September, including 29-year-old Edrick Floreal-Wooten.
“It was not consensual,” he told CBS. “They used us as an experiment, like we’re livestock. Just because we wear stripes and we make a few mistakes in life, doesn’t make us less of a human. We got families, we got loved ones out there that love us.”
Karas said in a Facebook post after the medical board launched its investigation that people who are incarcerated “are never forced to take medicines and routinely refuse medications which is their right.”
Taking ivermectin claims to court
Four individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus while they were incarcerated at the Washington County Detention Center are named as plaintiffs in the Jan. 13 complaint, which was filed by the ACLU of Arkansas.
According to the lawsuit, Karas and his practice — Karas Correctional Health — receive a $1.37 million annual contract with the detention center to provide health services to inmates. Karas has also been a vocal proponent of ivermectin as a supposed treatment for COVID-19, which he chronicles on the Facebook page for his clinic Karas Health Care.
The ACLU said he began giving ivermectin to incarcerated individuals in Washington County as early as November 2020, and the sheriff was aware of it by July last year.
In December, Karas posted a lengthy statement on Facebook describing the “evolution of Karas Healthcare Covid Treatment Regimen,” which included the use of vitamins D and C as well as zinc to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the Washington County jail early in the pandemic and, later, prescribing ivermectin and antibiotics to those inmates who tested positive.
According to the complaint, the named plaintiffs all contracted COVID-19 in August and were given “a cocktail of drugs” ranging from two to 10 pills twice a day. They reportedly included “high doses of vitamins and the drug ivermectin.”
Some of the incarcerated men were given doses between three and six times greater than what’s approved for treating worms with ivermectin, the complaint states.
“Dr. Karas admitted publicly on his clinic’s social media page to dosing inmates housed at WCDC with as much as 0.4 mg/kg of the drug Ivermectin — an astounding amount of the dewormer, and double the dosage recommended for its intended use (which says nothing of its use here),” the ACLU said.
According to the lawsuit, none of the men were told they were being given ivermectin or warned about the potential side effects — which range from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to seizures, coma and death, McClatchy News previously reported.
Instead, the incarcerated individuals said, Karas and his medical staff told them they were getting “vitamins,” “antibiotics” or “steroids.”
“Had Plaintiffs been informed that the drugs they were given included the dewormer Ivermectin and informed of its nature and potential side effects, they would have refused to take it,” the ACLU said in the complaint.
Those who were treated with ivermectin in the detention center said they experienced a range of side effects after taking the drug, including vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools and stomach cramps.
“To add insult to injury, plaintiffs were subject to the payment of fees for medical examinations they sought after suffering side effects from the Ivermectin treatment,” the ACLU said.
Those fees reportedly went to Karas, pursuant to his contract with the detention center.
The lawsuit accuses the sheriff, detention center and Karas of violating the inmates’ right to due process by denying them the opportunity to give consent. The ACLU also said Karas violated the equal protection clause by denying inmates the same access to information about ivermectin his patients who are not incarcerated receive.
None of the defendants have responded to the lawsuit, court filings show.