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Huge surge in seizures of ivermectin as HSE warns against using unproven Covid-19 treatments

People have been buying the drug on the black market and having it shipped to Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Amy Lutz

THE HSE HAS warned of the dangers of using unproven Covid-19 treatments after it emerged that nearly 5,000 units of ivermectin – typically used as a horse dewormer – have been seized over a 12 month period during the pandemic.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) confirmed to The Journal that 4,958 units of the medication were seized between July 2020 and July 2021. 

It represents an increase of over 3,000 per cent on the previous 12 months when just 158 units were seized.

The vast majority of seizures were classified as ‘personal importation’, meaning people buying the drug online – usually on the black market – and getting it sent to Ireland. 

Ivermectin – which is usually given to animals orally in the form of an edible paste – is widely used by vets here. It is conventionally used to treat parasitic worm infestations in horses and to treat skin conditions. It is also authorised for veterinary use for a wide range of animal species.

Forms of the drug are also licensed for human use in Ireland.

Research was conducted last year to see if the drug had any effect on treating or preventing Covid. The world’s top health agencies have said there is still insufficient evidence that this medication is effective against Covid.

This has not stopped people from attempting to get their hands on it via online orders. 

Internationally, some people who have taken animal forms of the drug have required medical treatment as a result. The US Food and Drug Adminstration said it had received “multiple reports of patients who have required medical attention, including hospitalisation, after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for livestock”.

A HSE spokesperson said: “Ivermectin is not an approved treatment for Covid-19 in Ireland or anywhere and while small studies have been done, none suggested that this agent will have any benefit.

“There is no specific treatment for Covid-19. But many of the symptoms of Covid-19 can be treated at home.”

Peter Conroy, a pharmacist based in Wexford, warned of the side effects of overdosing on the drug.

Speaking to The Journal he said that many of the doses being bought on the black market are intended for use in horses. Therefore, the dose can be ten times higher than what is safe for humans. 

Serious side effects of overdose include inflammation of the brain, coma, as well as liver toxicity. 

“If you take any medication that anybody is being prescribed and multiplied the dose by six or ten, there is going to be a long list of side effects. Your liver has to detoxify this.

“I say trust your doctor and stick to medication which is prescribed for you. Listen to the professionals and not something on the internet.” 

He added: “Ivermectin has not been proven to be beneficial.

“I do not want to demonise this drug but there is not enough data to support its use for viruses like Covid.”  

The HPRA did not give a breakdown of how many of the doses seized in Ireland were for animal use and how many for humans. 

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A spokesperson said: “The 4,988 units of Ivermectin were detained at port of entry to Ireland and, in the main, are suspected to be personal importations from individuals purchasing online.

The HPRA, along with Revenue and the gardaí, are monitoring social media sites and other websites where the drug is being sold, they added. 

The spokesperson also urged members of the public not to buy products online which claim to cure or prevent Covid-19.

“While online vendors may claim that their products can prevent, cure or treat Covid-19, such products are likely to be illegal or falsified (fake) and could be harmful to your health.” 

- Additional reporting by Daragh Brophy 

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