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Arkansas inmates sue after unknowingly being treated for covid with ivermectin: ‘They must be held accountable’

Elevated by social media and right-wing pundits and politicians, the drug is not recommended by either the FDA or its manufacturer to treat covid-19. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)
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In August, four inmates at a Fayetteville, Ark., detention center who tested positive for the coronavirus say they were relocated to the facility’s quarantine block.

The men were among 22 inmates at Washington County Detention Center housed in barracks designated for those who had been infected with the coronavirus or in close contact with someone who tested positive, court records state.

Twice a day inside that quarantine block, doctor Robert Karas and other unnamed jail employees gave the four men a cocktail of drugs supposed to treat covid-19, according to court records.

The inmates say they were told that the pills they were regularly administered included antibiotics, vitamins and steroids.

But what Karas and other staff members did not disclose “over a period of days and possibly weeks,” court records state, was that the pills the four inmates repeatedly swallowed were in fact high doses of vitamins and ivermectin — a deworming drug that some people are using to prevent or treat covid-19, despite several public health agencies advising against it.

Now, the four men are suing the physician, his private health-care company, the detention center, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder and other unidentified staff members for allegedly violating their constitutional rights by intentionally dispensing “incredibly high doses” of ivermectin without their consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The men say the drug regimen jeopardized their health and made them unwitting subjects of medical research.

“No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation,” Gary Sullivan, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the inmates, told The Washington Post in an email. “ … The detention center failed to use safe and appropriate treatments for COVID-19, even in the midst of a pandemic, and they must be held accountable.”

In a message to The Post, Karas, who has publicly supported the use of ivermectin to prevent or treat covid, said he is “still using [the] same meds with over 550 cases.” The physician claimed that no one he has administered the drug to has died.

Karas did not immediately respond to a follow-up message requesting an interview.

According to the lawsuit, in 2020 Karas’s health-care company, Karas Correctional Health, won a contract to provide health care at the detention center at an annual cost of over $1.3 million.

A spokeswoman with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Neither Helder nor a spokesperson with the Washington County Detention Center responded to messages from The Post.

In August — when the Food and Drug Administration and other public health agencies urged people to refrain from taking ivermectin, warning it could be “dangerous” and potentially fatal, the Arkansas jail and its health-care provider began facing criticisms that they were subjecting inmates to “medical experimentation” through their use of the livestock deworming drug, The Post reported.

Helder confirmed the practice to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Washington County Justice of the Peace Eva Madison (D) told The Post at the time that she was dismayed when the sheriff defended the use of ivermectin.

“He didn’t seem to care that this goes against FDA guidance,” Madison said.

Madison also told The Post at the time that Karas had confirmed that he was treating jail detainees with ivermectin and said he was taking it himself and giving it to family members.

Jail doctor prescribes livestock drug ivermectin to detainees with covid-19 despite FDA warnings

According to the recent lawsuit, Karas and other staff members began administering ivermectin — long used to kill parasites in animals and humans — to detainees as a treatment for the virus as early as November 2020.

But it wasn’t until Dec. 24, 2021, that Karas publicly admitted on social media that he gave inmates at the WCDC up to twice the dosage recommended for its intended use, according to the lawsuit. He also allegedly stated that the dosage was different from what he prescribed for his private practice patients.

By then, plaintiffs Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales and Dayman Blackburn say they had already ingested “inappropriately high levels” of ivermectin without their consent.

One plaintiff, who as of Aug. 21 was 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds, was allegedly administered 36 mg of the drug, according to his medical records. Then, from Aug. 23 to 25, he was given 24 mg of ivermectin a day — that amount, totaling 108 mg over four days, is more than six times the approved dosage, court records state.

And, the inmates say, Karas never informed them of the drug’s side effects or stated that any observed results from their treatment plan would be used for research purposes.

“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,” court records state.

The lawsuit does not specify what kind of research the plaintiffs believe Karas was conducting.

The four men, the lawsuit states, suffered side effects consistent with the overuse of ivermectin, including vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools and stomach cramps.

Once the men began suffering the side effects of the deworming drug and sought medical attention, the lawsuit states, they were forced to cover their medical examination fees.

When the detainees realized they had been given the deworming drug without their consent, the lawsuit alleges, the defendants attempted to get the men’s “retroactive” consent for the jail’s medical treatments, including the use of ivermectin.

Now, the men are requesting a medical evaluation by an independent medical provider unaffiliated with Karas’s company and awarded costs and fees.

Kim Bellware contributed to this report.