• An ER doctor in Oklahoma said rural hospitals were clogged with people overdosing on ivermectin.
  • Jason McElyea said the bed shortage was so severe that gunshot victims had to wait to be treated.
  • McElyea said people were reporting vision loss after overdosing on the deworming drug.

A doctor in rural Oklahoma said the number of people overdosing on the deworming medication ivermectin was so high that emergency rooms were filled to the brim.

The situation is so dire that people with gunshot wounds have to wait their turn to get treatment, Dr. Jason McElyea, an ER physician affiliated with hospitals in Sallisaw, told KFOR, an NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City.

McElyea spoke to the channel this week about the dangers of overdosing on the version of ivermectin meant for use in livestock. He said the hospitals he worked at became overwhelmed after people started taking ivermectin, believing unverified claims that it’s an effective COVID-19 treatment.

“The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated,” McElyea said.

He added: “All of their ambulances are stuck at the hospital waiting for a bed to open so they can take the patient in and they don’t have any, that’s it. If there’s no ambulance to take the call, there’s no ambulance to come to the call.”

McElyea said many of his patients were familiar with the drug. “Growing up in a small town, rural area, we’ve all accidentally been exposed to ivermectin at some time. So, it’s something people are familiar with,” he said. “Because of those accidental sticks when trying to inoculate cattle, they’re less afraid of it.”

But McElyea said he’d seen people suffering from the ramifications of taking doses meant for a full-sized horse, including instances of vision loss, nausea, and vomiting.

“Some people taking inappropriate doses have actually put themselves in worse conditions than if they’d caught COVID,” he said.

Oklahoma has reported a total of 557,770 COVID-19 cases and 8,001 deaths, according to The New York Times’ case tracker. The state’s daily average of new cases was 2,671 on Thursday, a 21% increase over the past 14 days.

US health authorities have said that while some initial research is underway, ivermectin is not approved or recommended as a treatment for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a health advisory last week warning that people could become severely ill from self-medicating with ivermectin and that overdosing could cause a coma, seizures, and death.

The milder side effects are also very unpleasant, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, dizziness, and other allergic reactions, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has also urged people not to self-medicate with the version of the drug intended for livestock, saying the formula used for animals differs greatly from the types approved for use in humans.

Despite health authorities’ warnings, data from the CDC indicates that people are continuing to take ivermectin. From early July to the week of August 13, pharmacies filled more than 88,000 ivermectin prescriptions, about 24 times the weekly average in the year to March 13, 2020, the CDC said on August 26.

The US National Institutes of Health is conducting a trial to see whether ivermectin could help people with mild or moderate COVID-19 cope better. A University of Oxford trial is also studying ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment.

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