Updated October 12, 2021 - 6:38 pm
People using a drug intended for animals to prevent or treat COVID-19 are not only potentially putting their own health at risk, they are also creating surging demand for the common medicine veterinarians need to care for sick horses, livestock and some small animals.
Ivermectin is a drug made for both people and animals to treat various parasitic ailments, but comes in different formulations for animals and people. However, misinformation on social media, podcasts and talk radio related to use of the drug to treat COVID has led some people to seek out the animal product where it can be bought in stores without a doctor’s prescription.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of potential toxic effects if a human ingests a veterinary formulation. Veterinary-use ivermectin can make people seriously ill because it’s normally formulated for a 1,000-pound or larger animal.
The drug was explored as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but studies found insufficient data to back up the claims.
National attention on the issue peaked last month when the Food and Drug Administration tweeted a warning against using the livestock version, saying, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
In Nevada, the Department of Agriculture warned consumers against using the livestock medicine for potential poisonings and shortages for veterinary healthcare.
“Veterinarians are reporting difficulty in obtaining veterinary formulations of ivermectin,” Nevada Agriculture Department State Veterinarian Amy Mitchell said in a Sept. 16 statement. “This creates barriers for veterinarians in providing necessary animal medical care.”
The agency encouraged veterinarians to report any shortages of the medicine to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. A spokesperson said that the center hasn’t received enough formal reports to “reliably gauge regional availability” of the drug and that local retailers and vets may know the supply better.
At least one vet clinic noticed the supply snag recently. Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, a nonprofit that provides affordable pet care, uses ivermectin to treat ear mites in a community cat program. Executive Director Francesca Fulciniti said her team has struggled to find more of the medicine in recent weeks and recently had an order canceled.
“They’re restricting our ability to get it just because there’s a limited amount available,” Fulciniti said. “So we’re seeing if we can get our hands on some in the coming week.”
She’s unaware whether the organization has alternative medicine to use in the meantime.
“We’ve never run into this problem before,” she added.
A local feed and tack store also got national attention in August for a sign requiring potential ivermectin customers to show a picture of them with their horse as proof that the medicine was intended for their animal. V &V Tack and Feed on Rancho Drive has since seen customer curiosity slow down, manager Shelly Smith said. She suspects the product behind a glass case puts some people off, or they know other places to purchase it.
Smith is still able to get the drug, just not from her usual brand, she said.
She said she warns customers not to use the animal product when they ask about it. Most are respectful, Smith said.
“I’ve only had one irate customer who called me for multiple days in a row,” she said. “He was pissed. He said we were killing people by not letting them take it and everybody he knows eats it and it tastes like apple, and he’s coming down here and protesting. He didn’t. I told him I was here till 7, come on down. I’ll make you TikTok famous.”
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.