A man looking at a medication bottle.

Ivermectin and COVID-19: What Does “Off-Label” Use Mean?

Sep 20 2021

You’ve probably heard of ivermectin, a drug that some people are taking off-label in the hope that it can treat COVID-19.

Ivermectin is a medication that has not been fully studied to evaluate its safety and effectiveness for treating COVID-19. However, despite the risk of serious harm, some individuals have been eager to try it.

Recently, poison control centers have witnessed a five-fold increase in calls from people who self-treated COVID-19 with ivermectin and then had adverse effects.

Thus, it is very important to know that ivermectin can cause severe illness, or even death, when misused.

What does “off-label” use mean?

When the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a medication, that approval applies to the use of the medication to treat a specific disease or condition. Use of that medication to treat a different disease or condition is considered off-label.

Your provider might suggest off-label use of a drug when other medications or treatments have not worked, or when there are no other drugs approved to treat your condition. Your health care provider would talk to you about the risks and benefits of using the medication so you could make a decision together about whether it’s a good option for you.

Without medical oversight, you can have a bad reaction to any medication that you use off-label. The risks of off-label use include taking a dangerously high dose or having a bad reaction with other medicines you’re taking.

What about ivermectin and COVID-19?

Ivermectin has been approved to treat onchocerciasis and intestinal strongyloidiasis, which are both conditions caused by parasitic worms. Additionally, topical forms of ivermectin are FDA-approved for the treatment of external parasites like head lice and for some skin conditions, such as rosacea.

However, ivermectin tablets are not FDA-approved to treat COVID-19.

Researchers are still studying this medication to determine whether it might be safe or effective as a treatment for COVID-19 infection.

Is ivermectin a horse medicine?

Off-label use is not the only thing that makes ivermectin use risky. Ivermectin is also a horse medicine that veterinarians use as a dewormer.

The formulation created for horses is not the same as the one for humans. However, there have been people who were so eager to try ivermectin that they purchased the veterinary version.

Veterinary products, especially those created for large animals like horses, can be too strong for humans, leading to overdose if people take them. Veterinary medications may also contain inactive ingredients that have not been tested in people.

When a person takes a veterinary formulation of ivermectin, they can experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Larger doses can lead to confusion, low blood pressure, hallucinations, seizure, or even coma and death.

Is off-label use ever safe?

The most important thing to remember about off-label use of a medicine is that you should consult with your health care provider before you take it. As an expert who knows your medical history, risk factors and overall health, they can help you understand and evaluate your options.

Without guidance from your health care provider, taking any off-label drug – including ivermectin – can be dangerous.

In addition, protect your health and safety by only taking medicine that has been prescribed by your provider specifically for you.

Learn more about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine.

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