An Ohio hospital won’t be required to treat a COVID-19 patient with the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, an unproven treatment endorsed by his wife and their doctor, a Butler County judge ruled Monday.
Julie Smith, whose husband has been on a ventilator for more than a month, had filed an injunction seeking to force West Chester Hospital to follow Dr. Fred Wagshul’s prescribed treatment. A different judge last week granted Smith’s request for a two-week period, but she wanted the treatment to continue beyond that, court records show.
Judge Michael Oster, Jr., of Butler County’s Court of Common Pleas, heard arguments in the case Thursday and Friday before issuing his ruling on Monday morning.
“While this court is sympathetic to the Plaintiff and understands the idea of wanting to do anything to help her loved one, public policy should not and does not support allowing a physician to try ‘any’ type of treatment on human beings,” he wrote. “Rather, public policy supports the safe and effective development of medications and treatments.”
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Oster noted that Wagshul does not have hospital privileges at West Chester and has never even seen the patient, 51-year-old Jeffrey Smith. The judge said he was not ruling on the effectiveness of ivermectin to treat coronavirus — an issue that is the subject of multiple ongoing clinical trials — but on whether the plaintiff has the right to require a hospital to administer an unproven medical treatment.
No public health organization has endorsed the use of ivermectin to fight COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association have all warned against it.
“As a citizen, it would be easy to think about wanting to help someone in Jeff Smith’s condition, no matter the law,” Oster said. “As a judge, the present case invites allowing emotions to steer one towards judicial activism. However, our legal system must stay firmly rooted in proper legal interpretation of the law, not what individual judges think the law should be.”
The ruling comes as ivermectin continues to fly off the shelves across the country. The number of ivermectin prescriptions issued nationwide in the week ending Aug. 13 topped 88,000 — a whopping 24-fold increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to the CDC.
The stunning numbers are also associated with an increase of adverse effects and hospital visits stemming from ivermectin use.
The drug is primarily used to treat or prevent parasites in large animals, like horses, sheep and cattle. The FDA does support the use of ivermectin tablets in humans, but only at “very specific doses” to treat some parasitic worms, according to the agency.
But Americans are not only using ivermectin for a disease it was not intended to treat, but many of them are self-medicating with the veterinary version of the drug, a dangerous decision that could lead to toxic effects, seizures, hallucinations, coma and death, according to the FDA.
“You are not a horse. You are not a cow,” the agency said in a tweet last month. “Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
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Court documents show Jeffrey Smith tested positive for COVID-19 on July 9 and was hospitalized a week later. As his condition continued to decline, he was sedated, intubated and placed on a ventilator on Aug. 1.
His wife asked hospital officials to treat him with ivermectin, but they refused. She then went to Dr. Waghsul, a pulmonologist who defends using the drug as a COVID-19 treatment, and obtained a prescription from him.
But at last week’s court hearing, Waghsul was only able to say that the patient “seems to be” getting better after receiving the drug and said, “I honestly don’t know,” when asked if continued use of ivermectin would benefit him, Judge Oster said in his ruling.
In addition, Oster said, Jeffrey Smith could be “safely” transferred to another hospital where Wagshul has privileges and continue the treatment there if his family desires — without forcing West Chester to do so.
“The Defendant Hospital wants to follow what it believes are appropriate medical standards and make the husband get better using these protocols,” Oster said.
The judge also noted that all parties involved in the lawsuit want Jeffrey Smith to get better and that the only bad actor involved in this situation is the virus.
“COVID-19 has found its way into and has disrupted every person’s life, and it has now found its way into this courtroom,” he said. “But, Judges are not doctors or nurses. We have gavels, not needles, vaccines, or other medicines.”
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