Scott Mason has been working in agricultural supply for about 17 years and knows what works for his customers, and his associates at Agri Products have to be ready to field questions about products to determine exactly what a customer needs.
Over the years, he’s seen the misuse of agricultural chemicals and medicines and the occasional intervention by authorities to prevent continued abuse. With a coronavirus pandemic stretching into a second year and fourth wave nationwide, a new misuse of livestock deworming medicine is causing some concern for Mason.
“When we go off label, not only are we responsible for taking the consequences of the way it affects us, but now we have to take responsibility for the way it affects others,” he said.
What is ivermectin and how is it used?
Ivermectin is a drug developed in the 1970s as a way to kill parasites in commercial livestock and other animals. Further studies would find it effective in combating some diseases in humans and the drug continues to be used for horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, and it also treats some parasitic infections in humans.
During the pandemic, multiple claims have been made that ivermectin can be used to treat and prevent COVID-19 despite two major studies showing no benefits from the drug. According to a USA TODAY fact-check in August, experts say those findings have been clouded by the publication of lower-quality studies and research with potential sources of bias.
USA TODAY Fact check:Ivermectin is not a proven treatment for COVID-19
So amid a torrent of misinformation about ivermectin and doctors refusing to prescribe forms of the drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, some Oklahoma residents and others across the country are turning to forms of Ivermectin intended for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and other livestock.
Oklahoma poison center:Do not take ivermectin for unapproved COVID-19 treatment
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Oklahoma, other states see uptick in ivermectin calls
Oklahoma’s poison control center has received at least 11 calls since May reporting human exposure to ivermectin, according to The Oklahoman. Most people developed only minor symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea and there have been no reported fatalities, but at least two people in Mississippi were hospitalized.
States like Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida are also seeing an uptick in calls to poison control centers about misuse of the agricultural medicine. Locally, Mason believes some people are taking the risk and trying the unapproved use of products.
“When we try to figure out what it is that they’re using it for, we’re asking in the vein of livestock because that’s what it is for. Sometimes they’ll be a little fuzzy or a little hazy about answering that question and then really all we can do at that point in the game is just continue to try to reiterate what it’s labeled for,” Mason said.
The misuse of agricultural supply products has happened before and Mason said sometimes that can impact the availability of an otherwise helpful product. He recalled a chemical used to treat plants and the warnings it had against using it around livestock.
“Well guess what. People were disregarding the label, using it in areas where there is livestock, next thing you know the rest of us can’t get the product,” said Mason.
‘You are not a horse’:FDA warns against use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19
He worries that widespread misuse of ivermectin intended for livestock could cause similar disruptions to product availability and make it difficult for farmers and ranchers to use something that has long protected herds from internal and external parasites.
“There’s a lot of farmers out there that are using the product the way that it’s supposed to be used. It’s helpful to the farmer, thus it’s helpful to all of us that consume that product(cattle),” said Mason.
The FDA has issued multiple warnings against the misuse of ivermectin intended for animals. In March, the agency updated its website to include information about approved and unapproved uses for ivermectin and specifically noted the difference between FDA-approved ivermectin and other forms not intended for human consumption.
In August, the agency posted a link to that information with a direct message as calls to poison control centers climbed nationwide over the summer. “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” read the message from the FDA’s Twitter account.
Mason said that the recent uptick in reported misuse of agricultural deworming medicine has not had any major impact on supply. While some customers have anecdotally told him that the product is difficult to find locally, Mason said supply has not been an issue for his store.
Websites for two major supply chains in Ardmore, Orscheln Farm and Tractor Supply, also indicate ivermectin supplies are not being impacted locally. While local management directed The Ardmoreite to the company’s corporate headquarters on Friday, Orscheln’s website includes a statement about reported misuse.
“The ivermectin products sold at your local Orscheln Farm & Home are FDA-approved for certain livestock use only, and should only be used pursuant to, and in accordance with the product label,” read the Orscheln statement. “These products have not been tested in humans and are not approved for use with humans. Any and all off-label use is unsafe and strictly prohibited.”
At Agri Products, Mason said employees will keep asking questions to make sure customers are getting what they need and keeping them safe in the process.
“We have suspicions that people are using it for personal use or other uses. We’re not sure what all they’re using it for. We Just try to keep directing them back to the label,” said Mason.
Could misuse of ivermectin for COVID-19 affect Oklahoma ag industry?