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Ohio judge reverses colleague’s decision on covid patient’s ivermectin treatment: ‘Judges are not doctors’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/7/2021 Andrea Salcedo
Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg © Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg Photographer: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg

Last month, an Ohio judge ordered a hospital to treat covid-19 patient Jeffrey Smith with ivermectin after his wife sued, alleging that the facility refused to give her husband the drug, despite him having a doctor’s prescription.

Since mid-July, Smith has been in West Chester Hospital’s intensive care unit, battling a severe case of covid, according to court records. Ivermectin — a deworming drug that some people are using to prevent or treat covid, despite several public health agencies advising against it — was Smith’s last shot at survival, his wife and guardian, Julie Smith, argued.

But on Monday, after Smith’s wife and the doctor who prescribed him the ivermectin failed to provide “convincing evidence” at a court hearing to show that the drug could significantly improve his condition, a different judge reversed course. Butler County Judge Michael A. Oster Jr. ordered the hospital to cease administering Smith, 51, the unproven treatment, arguing that “judges are not doctors or nurses.”

“Based on the current evidence, ivermectin is not effective as a treatment for COVID-19. … Even Plaintiff’s own doctor could not say [that] continued use of ivermectin would benefit [Jeffrey] Smith,” Oster wrote in an order filed on Monday.

Oster added: “After considering all of the evidence presented in this case, there can be no doubt that the medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.”

The judge’s reversal is the latest example of government officials addressing the use of ivermectin — long used to kill parasites in animals and humans — as a treatment for the coronavirus. In recent months, the Food and Drug Administration and other public health agencies have urged people to refrain from taking the unproven treatment, warning it could be “dangerous” and potentially fatal.

“You are not a horse,” the Food and Drug Administration tweeted last month. “You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”

The drug, which has garnered support in conservative circles, has been promoted by some doctors, Republican lawmakers and talk show hosts.

Doctors dismayed by patients who fear coronavirus vaccines but clamor for unproven ivermectin

Smith, a father of three, tested positive for the coronavirus on July 9 and was admitted to West Chester Hospital’s ICU less than a week later, according to the lawsuit his wife filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court. The hospital treated Smith with remdesivir, plasma and steroids, and he eventually reached a “period of relative stability,” court records state.

But on July 27, his condition deteriorated, according to the lawsuit, and he was sedated and put on a ventilator days later. When Smith was placed in a medically induced coma on Aug. 20, his wife reached out to Fred Wagshul, who prescribed the drug without seeing Smith, court records state.

Wagshul is listed as a founding physician of Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance. The nonprofit organization, which promotes ivermectin as a preventive treatment for covid, is referenced in the lawsuit. Wagshul does not have medical privileges to work at West Chester Hospital, according to Oster’s order.

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit told The Post in a Tuesday email that Wagshul understood the judge’s ruling but wishes the hospital would have tried the unproven treatment as a last resource.

“The most disturbing issue is that the hospital itself, after telling Julie Smith they had tried everything to recover her husband and could do nothing more for him, refused to try ivermectin," Wagshul said. "There was nothing to lose by trying it. During a killer pandemic, compassion too has become a casualty.”

Smith’s wife requested that the hospital administer the drug, but doctors told Julie Smith they could not treat her husband with ivermectin because it could interfere with other medications, the lawsuit states. There was nothing left to be done for him, the doctors said.

Julie Smith alleges that she offered to sign a release relieving the hospital and its doctors of any liability related to the drug treatment, a statement the hospital denied in its response to the court. Jonathan Davidson, an attorney representing Julie Smith, told The Post that his client was not available for an interview Monday night.

On Aug. 23, Butler County Judge J. Gregory Howard ordered the hospital to administer 30 milligrams of ivermectin to Smith daily for three weeks, as requested by his wife. The order, which was first reported by the Ohio Capital Journal and the Cincinnati Enquirer, did not include any explanation for the judge’s decision.

But Oster on Monday struck down that order, saying that neither Julie Smith nor Wagshul were able to demonstrate how the ivermectin treatment had changed Smith’s prognosis.

When asked whether the drug was improving Smith’s health, Wagshul “was only able to say that [Jeffrey] Smith ‘seems to be’ getting better after receiving ivermectin,” Oster wrote. And when Oster asked whether continued use of ivermectin would benefit Smith, Wagshul answered, “I honestly don’t know,” court records state.

Julie Smith, for her part, told the judge she believes the drug is working.

The judge wrote in his order that several public health organizations, including the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, do not recommend the drug be used to treat covid. At the moment, no studies or data analysis support said treatment for the virus, Oster wrote.

“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,” the judge wrote.

Nevertheless, Oster said that Jeffrey Smith could safely be transferred to another hospital where Wagshul has medical privileges if he wishes to continue with the ivermectin treatment, an option that would not require the court’s intervention.

The attorney representing Julie Smith said his client was “disappointed” by the court’s decision, adding that the drug has improved her husband’s illness.

“I know this was a decision that Judge Oster did not take lightly,” Davidson told The Post in an email. “Fortunately, Mr. Smith was able to receive 14 days of treatment of Ivermectin, during which time his condition did improve. While he has likely received his last dose at UC West Chester hospital, we can only hope his condition continues to trend positively.”

A spokeswoman for UC Health, which includes West Chester Hospital, said the hospital was grateful for the judge’s decision.

“We do not believe that hospitals or clinicians should be ordered to administer medications and/or therapies, especially unproven medications and/or therapies, against medical advice,” spokeswoman Amanda Nageleisen told The Post in an email. “We are grateful for the judge’s careful consideration and for the judicial process in this matter.”

An attorney representing the hospital did not immediately respond to messages from The Post late Monday. Julie Smith’s attorney did not respond to a question about whether the couple had been vaccinated.

Hannah Knowles and Timothy Bella contributed to this report.


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