'Substantial' increase in calls to Alberta poison info line about unapproved COVID-19 remedy

Calls to Alberta’s poison and drug information service regarding the use of an unapproved remedy for COVID-19 are rising, say Alberta experts.

Dr. Mark Yarema, medical director of Alberta Health Services’ poison and drug information service shared with CTV News Edmonton that since May 2016, the poison and drug information service – which serves Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and some territories – received 57 calls relating to some level of exposure to Ivermectin.

Of those 57 calls, 22 of them have been in 2021 – including 18 in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan.

The poison and drug information service received 13 calls in the past five weeks alone.

“We consider that quite substantial,” Yarema said. “The nature of many these calls over the past five weeks has been Ivermectin use or prophylaxis treatment for COVID-19.”

Substantial enough that Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw spent time during her COVID-19 update Thursday afternoon to dispel misinformation spreading online about Ivermectin’s use for COVID-19.

“Despite what you may hear on social media, the evidence from extensive, high-quality scientific research around the world has not shown that Ivermectin works for COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.

“This drug is approved for human use to treat conditions such as infections caused by parasitic worms. But COVID-19 is not a parasite. And taking these types of medications on your own is incredibly dangerous.”

Hinshaw said there have been people hospitalized because of adverse side effects after taking Ivermectin and that patients ended up in hospital for COVID-19 because they choose taking the drug instead of an approved vaccine.

“The best and safest way to protect our health is by getting vaccinated.  This is based on evidence from science from around the world.”

Yarema shared how there is a difference between veterinary grade Ivermectin and what is prescribed for the limited uses the drug is approved for in humans.

“This medicine is not benign. People can get sick as a result of that and we’ve seen evidence of that.”

Many of the studies that proponents of using Ivermectin as a supposed treatment for COVID-19 have since been retracted or edited, Yarema said because the data was flawed or the study was found to no longer be valid.

He added that many of the studies showing preliminary data that Ivermectin could be effective against COVID-19 are using doses hundreds of time what is approved or used in other treatment applications.

“The vaccine is not experimental,” Yarema said. “It has been given billions of times. It is approved by Health Canada and the FDA.

“The vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective in the majority of individuals,” he said.

Some doctors in Alberta have been prescribing or recommending patients take Ivermectin. In addition, Yarema shared how a few physicians had been requesting Alberta Health Services procure Ivermectin for use in patients with COVID-19.

“Those accusations are being investigated,” Yarema said.

According to Yarema, overdosing on Ivermectin can generate symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, but in more serious cases can cause liver or stomach poisoning and drowsiness to the point of entering a coma.

“While in general, in therapeutic doses for the right reasons, Ivermectin is safe and effective when people take matters into their own hands and take super-therapeutic doses people can get sick,” he said.