Despite opposition from medical community, South Dakota committee passes 'ivermectin freedom' bill
Two lawmakers on House Health and Human Services who voted for HB 1267 said they wouldn't support bill on floor without amendment requiring prescription. One lawmaker calls out cable news "disinformation" before vote.
PIERRE, S.D. — A bill allowing South Dakota residents to obtain a drug normally used for de-worming horses without a prescription passed the House of Representative's top health committee on Thursday, Feb. 10.
House Bill 1267's prime sponsor Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, called the drug ivermectin a "very economical, very therapeutic" manner to treat COVID-19 — a charge largely decried by health experts, including the state's largest association of doctors.
"It's been mentioned that ivermectin has achieved worldwide fame and status," said Dr. Dan Heinemann, representing the South Dakota Academy of Family Physicians. "Yes, that's because it's an incredible drug for the treatment of intestinal parasites, and that is not a common issue in this country, it is a huge issue in developing countries."
The South Dakota State Medical Association, the lobby of hospitals, and other health groups stood in opposition to the bill, saying ivermectin has proven to be dangerous, even deadly in patients.
Still, a razor thin majority of the 13-member House committee either agreed with Jensen — or agreed the issue warranted more discussion — voting 7-6 to send HB 1267 to the floor.
According to the bill's text, the measure would allow a medical practitioner to "dispense" the controversial drug "with or without a prior prescription."
In remarks , supporters framed the issue as one of "medical freedom."
"I think what we have raised here is a lot of questions," said committee chair Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton. "And I think we need to keep this conversation alive. And if we don't keep it alive, it dies today."
Two "aye" votes, Rep. Tamara St. John, R-Sisseton, and Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, said they would want to see further amendments to gain their support on the House floor.
"I will be supporting, but I do want to see some tweaking done," said St. John.
Before the vote, one nurse on the committee — Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, R-Sioux Falls — called out the chair's remark that appeared to suggest ivermectin was a pedestrian drug available at any "farm store."
"The ivermectin that is available today is a horse dosage," Rehfeldt said.
Indeed, the drug has largely been used in the U.S. as a treatment for intestinal worms in animals. Supporters during testimony, however, expressed extreme doubt in the medical community in the U.S., equating the drug to a miracle cure for the deadly virus that has been black-listed by opponents.
A Rapid City woman, Stephanie Hunter, blamed hospital staff — not his active infection of COVID-19 — for her husband, Kevin, spending two months on a ventilator after he was treated with remdesivir.
"We did not know anything about ivermectin," said Hunter. "How to get it, how to use it. We were uneducated."
During committee remarks, Rep. Kaleb Weis, R-Aberdeen, doubled-down on skepticism about the medical community's attempts to dissuade people from self-medicating with ivermectin.
"It makes me really question the quality and un-biased-ness of our clinical trials," said Weis, "which, unfortunately, then makes me question our medical profession in general."
Ivermectin's manufacturer, Merck, has said there is no "scientific basis" for the drug to be used as a therapeutic against COVID-19.
Rep. Paul Miskimins, R-Mitchell, lamented the "disinformation" that had propelled the drug's standing as a COVID-19 treatment and asked the committee to take "all the TV commentators out of this."
"We're at the point where they said we'd get to," said Miskimins, "We don't know who to believe or what study to believe."
Miskimins, a retired dentist, was one of six votes against the measure. It now moves onto the full House with a "do pass" recommendation.
In a news conference on Thursday following the vote, Gov. Kristi Noem noted ivermectin had received FDA approval for use in humans, but that it required a prescription.
"I've never questioned the fact that that prescription could be necessary," said Noem.
The FDA has approved ivermectin to "treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis," or parasitic worms. But the federal agency has specifically discouraged using ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, citing the absence of evidence in clinical trials.