It began months ago: Customers started walking into the Western Ranchman, the north Phoenix ranch supply store, and asking for tubes of ivermectin.
The drug is a staple at animal feed stores. It's a dewormer, used to treat parasites in horses. But these customers weren’t giving it to horses.
“They were saying, 'Oh, I'm taking it for Covid,'” says Amy Jonson, who works at the store.
Over the past few weeks, more customers than ever are buying the drug from the Western Ranchman, Jonson says. It’s one of multiple animal feed stores in the Phoenix area that told Phoenix New Times that they have been flooded with requests for ivermectin from customers who are convinced, wrongly, that taking horse dewormer will stave off the virus.
Theories that ivermectin can cure or treat Covid-19 have been running rampant on social media and on right-wing news for months. There is no solid evidence, though, that the drug is effective in treating the virus. The World Health Organization, the CDC, and the FDA have all warned against its use for Covid-19, outside of clinical trials — whether that’s the apple-flavored ivermectin paste for horses, the “pour-on” version for cows, or the prescription pill formulation for humans.
The warnings haven’t stopped people from rushing to get the drug, though, as Covid cases continue to climb. Some pharmacists have relented to the demand: Nationwide, ivermectin is now being prescribed twenty-five times more frequently than it was before the pandemic. And, when the drug’s believers can’t obtain prescriptions for the human-approved form, some are resorting to taking ivermectin that is made for horses and cows — sometimes, with grisly results.
The Western Ranchman sells three different brands of ivermectin, all of which are for horses. They have all been cleaned off the shelves.
“We are totally sold out,” Jonson told New Times.
A staff member at the Mesa animal supply store Premier Feed and Pet also told New Times that the store had seen a dramatic spike in ivermectin sales. A new case came in this past Friday; by Monday, it was all gone.
“We can't even keep it on the shelf right now,” said the staff member, who requested not to be identified in order to discuss the situation.
The demand for ivermectin has become a “real problem” for Premier Feed and Pet, the employee said, which is now concerned about its own liability in selling the product, given that use of the drug — which is highly powerful, given that it is made for thousand-pound horses — has been linked to multiple hospitalizations in humans. But so far, the store has not stopped selling the product.
Other local stores that reported increased sales include Gordon’s Feed in South Phoenix and Superstition Feed and Pet out in Apache Junction. Others declined to discuss the drug with New Times: “Our ivermectin paste is for animals,” was all that one representative with Shoppers Supply in Chandler would say.
Jonson, though, thinks that most all area feed stores are dealing with the demand. “It’s the same story everywhere, I’m sure,” she said. “It’s certainly a thing for us.”
Local poison control centers have also begun to issue warnings about the drug. Last week, Banner Health in Phoenix reported that its poison information center had seen an increase in calls about ivermectin in August, including one case of hospitalization due to the drug. The Arizona Poison Control System in Tucson says it has received a dozen calls about ivermectin.
“It is something that we’re seeing statewide,” Banner spokesperson Alexis Kramer told New Times.
Daniel Brooks, medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center, noted in last week’s announcement that higher doses of the drug, like those seen in its animal formulations, can “cause significant illness in humans.” Per Kramer, there have been no new cases of hospitalization yet, but concern remains.
Feed stores are left in a difficult position. As the staff member at the Mesa feed store noted, ivermectin is critical for horses. To prevent potentially deadly parasites, the animals need to be dewormed multiple times a year.
“We have to sell it,” she said. “It’s imperative that we sell it, to keep the horses healthy. That's our business.” But, she said, she’s haunted by the customers who she knows are “taking poison.”
At the Western Ranchman, Jonson says that there’s little the store can do to slow the sales. “We just remind them,” she said, “that it’s labeled for horses.”