Fact check: No evidence Oklahoma hospitals are backed up due to ivermectin overdoses

·6 min read

The claim: Emergency rooms in Oklahoma are backed up with people overdosing on ivermectin

Hospitals across the nation are overwhelmed by critically ill COVID-19 patients as cases continue to climb. But online, some claim ivermectin overdoses are to blame.

Ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat certain parasites and tropical diseases, but many have baselessly promoted it as a COVID-19 cure throughout the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and health officials warn taking the drug can be toxic due to high concentration levels in the doses. Yet poison control centers in states such as Texas have started to receive an uptick in calls about ivermectin.

Meanwhile, some social media users are claiming so many people are taking the drug in Oklahoma that it has overwhelmed emergency rooms.

“Oklahoma emergency rooms are backed up with people overdosing on ivermectin,” reads a Sept. 5 Instagram post from the page Baller Alert that accumulated more than 288,000 views in less than a week.

On Sept. 5, one Facebook user wrote, “Oklahoma's ERs are so backed up with people overdosing on ivermectin that gunshot victims are having to wait to be treated, a doctor says.”

But Oklahoma hospitals have said this isn't true. The claim about Oklahoma's emergency rooms and ivermectin overdoses is based on a comment from one source, who says his comment was taken out of context.

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The social media users who shared the post did not return a request for comment.

Doctor says remarks were misrepresented

The confusion started when local news outlet KFOR published an article on Sept. 1 headlined, "Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances."

The article quotes Dr. Jason McElyea, an emergency room physician, as saying, “The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated."

The article then quotes him discussing the dangers of ivermectin and how patients who used the drug were arriving at hospitals with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and cramping.

KFOR linked McElyea's comments about ivermectin and hospitals being overcrowded and reported, "McElyea said patients are packing his eastern and southeastern Oklahoma hospitals after taking ivermectin."

From there, several prominent national news outlets published stories on McElyea's interview, such as Rolling Stone, which originally headlined the story, "Gunshot Victims Left Waiting as Horse Dewormer Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says." The article was updated after publication to include a new headline and an editor's note saying Rolling Stone was unable to independently verify any cases of ivermectin overdoses causing emergency room backlogs in Oklahoma.

While McElyea appear to claim ivermectin was the main cause of hospital congestion in Oklahoma, additional footage from the original interview released by KFOR on Sept. 6 shows he suggested usage of the drug played a role.

"Some of the examples of patients that we're seeing that are causing a backlog are those such as people who are taking horse doses of ivermectin," McElyea told the TV station.

This quote was not included in the KFOR article. KFOR has since added an editor's note saying McElyea never said he was referring to every hospital in the state, "and our reporting did not make that claim."

Other news reports indicate COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma are causing over-capacity hospitals, and McElyea has since stated that his comments were misconstrued.

A section for ivermectin, a horse dewormer, is nearly cleaned out on a shelf at Tractor Supply Co. on Raeford Road in Fayetteville on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Some people believe ivermectin helps treat COVID-19 but it is not recommended by federal health officials.
A section for ivermectin, a horse dewormer, is nearly cleaned out on a shelf at Tractor Supply Co. on Raeford Road in Fayetteville on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Some people believe ivermectin helps treat COVID-19 but it is not recommended by federal health officials.

"As the story ran, it sounded like all of Oklahoma hospitals were filled with people who have overdosed on ivermectin and that's not the case," McElyea told an Oklahoma news channel on Sept. 6. He said the “original story was just a little misquoted.”

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Hospitals deny claim

At least two hospitals have issued statements denying claims that hospitals are backed up due to ivermectin overdoses.

“NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin,” reads a Sept. 4 statement from Northeastern Health System Sequoyah. “All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.”

The statement also said that McElyea is not an employee at the hospital, but he “is affiliated with a medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.”

Integris Grove Hospital in Oklahoma said their location has seen ivermectin patients in its emergency rooms, but McElyea’s “comments were misconstrued and taken out of context.”

“While our hospitals are not filled with people who have taken ivermectin, such patients are adding to the congestion already caused by COVID-19 and other emergencies,” the hospital told KOKH.

Data from the Oklahoma Center for Poison Drug Information indicates ivermectin has not been an overwhelming issue.

Scott Schaeffer, director of the poison center, told USA TODAY there were three calls in July related to ivermectin exposure, 12 in August and four for this month as of Sept. 8.

"We have not seen any serious cases that we would attribute to ivermectin," Schaeffer said. "We've had people with very minor symptoms."

He noted that the Oklahoma Center for Poison Drug Information is not a mandatory reporting agency, and while there may have been other ivermectin exposure cases, "it is nothing to the extent as seen in reports."

Per the National Poison Data System, 1,143 ivermectin exposure cases were reported in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31.

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Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that emergency rooms in Oklahoma are backed up with people overdosing on ivermectin. The claim is based on an interview with an Oklahoma doctor who said his comments were misrepresented. Hospitals in the state said their locations are not filled with patients who took ivermectin, and the Oklahoma Center for Poison Drug Information said calls related to ivermectin have been relatively low.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Oklahoma hospitals are not backed up with ivermectin cases

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