A group of inmates at a jail in the US state of Arkansas are taking legal action, saying they were unknowingly prescribed the horse deworming drug Ivermectin to treat Covid-19.
Small doses of Ivermectin are approved for use on humans, but health officials have warned against its use for Covid.
Anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists have been promoting the drug as an alternative to vaccination.
The doctor who administered the drug said no inmates were forced to take it.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the inmates said that after contracting Covid they were given a “cocktail of drugs” they were told contained vitamins, antibiotics and steroids.
It said they had been administered Ivermectin without prior informed consent.
The plaintiffs were named as Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales and Dayman Blackburn.
The lawsuit said they experienced problems with their vision, diarrhea and stomach cramps after taking the medication.
“No-one – including incarcerated individuals – should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation,” said ACLU Arkansas legal director Gary Sullivan in a statement.
“The detention centre failed to use safe and appropriate treatments for Covid-19, even in the midst of a pandemic, and they must be held accountable.”
The defendants in the case – Washington County Jail, county sheriff Tim Helder and health provider Robert Karas – are yet to comment on the lawsuit.
But in a letter sent by his lawyer to investigators in September when the accusations first came to light, Dr Karas denied that inmates were coerced or misled into taking the drug, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Dr Karas said that 254 inmates had been treated with the drug since November 2020.
Warnings over ‘miracle drug’
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement last year urging people not to take Ivermectin for Covid-19..
There was a spike in prescriptions of the drug in the US in summer 2021, and the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said calls to poison control centres across the US about human exposure to Ivermectin rose sharply at that time.
Ivermectin, mainly a veterinary deworming agent, can be used in small doses to treat some human conditions such as infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice, and skin conditions like rosacea.
It has been championed as a “miracle drug” by Covid vaccine opponents, and health authorities in some countries have approved it.
Influential podcast host Joe Rogan, who has dismissed vaccines, said he took Ivermectin after contracting Covid-19.
But a number of key scientific studies which suggested the drug could treat the virus and prevent Covid deaths were found to have serious errors or signs of potential fraud.