Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
When her husband had gotten so sick from the coronavirus that he was forced into a medically induced coma this month, Julie Smith turned to ivermectin – a deworming drug that some people are using to treat or prevent covid-19.
“My husband is on death’s doorstep,” she wrote, according to an affidavit, “he has no other options.”
Yet when Julie Smith got a prescription from an Ohio doctor, a hospital in West Chester Township, Ohio, allegedly refused to administer the drug to Jeffrey Smith while he was seriously ill and on a ventilator, according to a lawsuit she filed on behalf of her husband this month.
Now, the hospital is being forced to administer the unproven treatment to Jeffrey Smith, 51, after a judge ruled in Julie Smith’s favor.
On Aug. 23, Butler County Judge Gregory Howard ordered West Chester Hospital to treat Smith with ivermectin for three weeks, as requested by his wife. The judge’s decision last week came despite the Food and Drug Administration not approving ivermectin to treat or prevent covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and urging against that use in a recent public advisory amid news of spiking calls to poison centers driven by people taking potent versions of the drug meant for livestock.
The Aug. 23 order, which does not explain the judge’s reasons, says Smith shall be administered 30 milligrams of ivermectin daily for 21 days. Smith’s vaccination status is not mentioned in the lawsuit, and Jonathan Davidson, an attorney for Julie Smith, declined to comment to The Washington Post on whether the Ohio man had been vaccinated.
Davidson said Tuesday that Jeffrey Smith is alive but declined to share details of his client’s medical condition, citing the family’s privacy.
“We’re just waiting right now,” Davidson told The Post.
A spokeswoman for UC Health, which includes West Chester Hospital, said she cannot comment on litigation or the specifics of patient care because of privacy laws.
The judge’s decision came as state and federal health agencies have expressed alarm at overdoses involving the deworming drug in recent weeks. The FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have warned for months against using the drug to treat the coronavirus, saying its use can “cause serious harm.” The Mississippi State Department of Health recently issued an alert advising people not to take the drug, saying that “at least 70 percent of the recent calls” at the state’s poison-control center have been from people ingesting ivermectin to treat or prevent covid-19.
A version of ivermectin approved for humans has long been used to fight parasitic infections, and some doctors have become vocal advocates of using the drug for covid, prescribing it routinely. A group of researchers who reviewed data from 14 ivermectin studies found that the results “cannot confirm the widely advertised benefits,” though other trials are ongoing.
The drug has found particular traction in conservative circles, promoted by talk-show hosts and Republican lawmakers.
Ohio reported nearly 6,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the state’s seven-day average for new cases to 4,717, according to data compiled by The Post. More than 2,700 people are hospitalized for covid in Ohio at this time.
More than 48% of the state is fully vaccinated. Data from the Ohio Department of Health shows that only about 500 of the roughly 21,000 state residents who’ve been hospitalized with covid since Jan. 1 were vaccinated.
Jeffrey Smith, of Fairfield Township, Ohio, tested positive for the coronavirus on July 9 and was admitted to an intensive care unit six days later, according to the lawsuit filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court. The hospital, less than 30 miles outside Cincinnati, treated the father of three with its usual coronavirus protocol of remdesivir, plasma and steroids. Smith was experiencing “a period of relative stability” before his condition worsened July 27, according to the lawsuit, and was sedated and placed on a ventilator days later.
After her husband was placed in a medically induced coma on Aug. 20, Julie Smith sought and was given a prescription of the drug by Fred Wagshul, an Ohio doctor who told the Capital Journal that the government’s stance toward ivermectin amounts to “genocide.”
Wagshul backed off the word choice in an interview with The Post but falsely claimed that ivermectin has proved more effective at warding off the coronavirus than the vaccines, though he said he also recommended immunization.
But when Smith asked doctors to administer the drug, the hospital refused to do so, telling her that ivermectin could interfere with other treatments and that there was nothing left for them to do, according to the lawsuit. Davidson acknowledged to The Post that the drug is “controversial” and said the hospital was “adamant.”
Among those who filed the lawsuit was Ralph Lorigo, the Erie County Conservative Party chairman, who has sued successfully in Illinois and New York for similar orders to use ivermectin. Davidson said he believes Julie Smith read about Lorigo’s successful court actions, which resulted in her finding a physician in Wagshul who was willing to prescribe the drug. Attempts to reach Lorigo were unsuccessful.
The Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, a nonprofit touting ivermectin as a preventive treatment for covid that lists Wagshul as a founding physician, is referenced in the Ohio lawsuit. The organization includes prices and locations of pharmacies that will supply the deworming drug, according to the Capital Journal.
As part of the complaint filed to the judge, Julie Smith signed a full release that relieved West Chester Hospital of any liability related to the ivermectin treatment. Davidson told The Post on Tuesday that Jeffrey Smith “hasn’t gotten any worse” eight days into his treatment.
Steve Feagins, chief clinical officer with Mercy Health in Cincinnati, told WCPO that while he understands people’s desperation in looking for something that’s not a vaccine to help prevent or treat the virus, he called the decision to prescribe ivermectin to covid patients “a tough risk-to-benefit ratio.”
“Anything we give in a hospital, you have to know that has been pharmacy-vetted, approved, is the benefit exceeds the harm,” Feagins said. “But I could tell you, if something works and is approved and authorized, we will do it.”
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.