Manitoba feed supply business issues in-store ivermectin warning

A Manitoba farm supply store is concerned about people misusing a drug meant to deworm horses.

The false belief ivermectin can be used to treat or prevent COVID-19 has prompted Health Canada to issue a warning to Canadians. It’s urging people to stop using the veterinary version of the drug immediately or risk severe illness or death.

“Clearly, you can see that it says oral paste for horses,” said Glenn Miller, owner of Anola Feed and Farm Supply.

Growing demand for the parasite-fighting product spurred him to put up a warning to customers: the veterinary version of the drug he sells is not meant for human consumption.

“It’s for veterinary use,” Miller said. “I would feel horrible if somebody would take something and get sick.”

The human version of the drug is approved for sale and can be used to treat parasitic worm infections in people but it’s available by prescription only.

Both versions have been falsely heralded as a drug that can treat or prevent COVID-19, but Miller said warnings from health experts not to consume ivermectin haven’t stopped people from seeking it out.

 “The staff has actually noticed that more and more inquiries are actually coming in,” he said. “People are asking and it’s pretty clear that they’re not horse people or not animal people, I guess you could say.”

The demand for ivermectin prompted a warning this week from Health Canada not to use either the veterinary or human drug versions to prevent or treat COVID-19.

“There is no evidence that ivermectin in either formulation is safe or effective when used for those purposes,” the warning reads.

It’s a message Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, shared on Monday.

“Things like ivermectin, we have very solid studies showing that there is no benefit from using this medication for the treatment of COVID-19,” Roussin said.

According to Health Canada, using the veterinary version can result in serious illness especially at high doses with the potential to cause vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, allergic reactions, dizziness, seizures, coma or even death.

A message being echoed by pharmacists.

“Medications need to be used in the appropriate doses and the veterinary medication comes in a very different dosage and concentration than what we would use in humans,” said Tim Smith, co-founder of Simplicity Wellness, a health coaching and chronic disease management practice and Vice President of Pharmacists of Manitoba.

Smith said the demand is also causing shortages for people who need ivermectin for its intended purpose.

“There’s been a global surge in demand which has resulted in strains on the supply chain so right now it is unavailable from many different wholesalers,” Smith said.

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy and professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law and School of Public Health, sees it as a phenomenon based largely on ideology.

“It really shows, I think, the power of conspiracy thinking,” Caulfield said.

Generally speaking, those embracing ivermectin are also skeptical of vaccines and public health measures, Caulfield said.

"Despite all of those expert opinions people are still taking this drug because they believe it will either prevent or treat COVID,” he said. “It’s really a remarkable phenomenon.”

Miller said he doesn’t want to sell ivermectin to people who want to use it for the wrong reason.

”We haven’t got to that point yet but if it does come to that we will take it off the shelf and have it by request only,” he said.

The Manitoba Poison Centre has not seen an increase in calls related to ivermectin exposure and isn’t aware of anyone falling ill because they’ve taken it to treat COVID-19, a spokesperson for Shared Health said.

Health experts are reminding people getting vaccinated, not taking ivermectin, is the best way to reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19.