Arkansas jail inmates settle lawsuit with doctor who prescribed them ivermectin for COVID-19

A box of ivermectin is displayed in a pharmacy Sept. 9, 2021, in Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Five former inmates at an Arkansas county jail have settled their lawsuit against a doctor who they said gave them the antiparasitic drug ivermectin to fight COVID-19 without their consent.

A federal judge last week dismissed the 2022 lawsuit against Dr. Robert Karas, who was the doctor for the Washington County jail and had administered the drug to treat COVID, citing the settlement.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin for use by people and animals for some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions. The FDA has not approved its use in treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans. According to the FDA, side effects for the drug include skin rash, nausea and vomiting.

The inmates said they were never told ivermectin was among the medications they had been given to treat their COVID-19 infections, and instead were told they were being given vitamins, antibiotics or steroids. The inmates said in their lawsuit that they suffered side effects from taking the drug including vision issues, diarrhea and stomach cramps, according to the lawsuit.

“These men are incredibly courageous and resilient to stand up to the abusive, inhumane experimentation they endured at the Washington County Detention Center,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represented the inmates. “The experimental use of Ivermectin without the knowledge and consent of these patients was a grave violation of medical ethics and the rights of the patients and these brave clients prevented further violation of not only their own rights, but those of others detained in WCDC.”

Under the settlement, each of the former inmates will receive $2,000. Two of the inmates are no longer in custody and the other three are now in state custody, Dickson said. The jail has also improved its notice and consent procedures and forms since the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU said.

Michael Mosley, an attorney for the defendants in the case, said they didn’t admit any wrongdoing by settling the case.

“From our perspective, we simply settled because the settlement (as you can see) is very minimal and less than the projected cost of continued litigation,” Mosley said in an email to The Associated Press. “Additionally, the allegations by some that Dr. Karas conducted any experiment regarding ivermectin were and are false and were disproven in this case.”

The state Medical Board last year voted to take no action against Karas after it received complaints about his use of ivermectin to treat COVID among inmates. Karas has said he began giving ivermectin at the jail in November 2020. He told a state Medical Board investigator that 254 inmates at the jail had been treated with ivermectin.

Karas has defended the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, and said no inmates were forced to take it.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks in March denied the motion to dismiss the inmates’ lawsuit, ruling that they had a “plausible” claim that their constitutional rights had been violated.

The American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in 2021 called to an immediate end to prescribing and using the drug to treat COVID-19.

Pharmacy prescriptions for ivermectin boomed during the pandemic, and health officials in Arkansas and other states issued warnings after seeing a spike in poison control center calls about people taking the animal form of the drug to treat COVID-19. The CDC also sent an alert to doctors about the trend.

Despite the warnings, the drug had been touted by Republican lawmakers in Arkansas and other states as a potential treatment for COVID-19.