The legal opinion is in response to a request from Nebraska Department of Health CEO Dannette Smith. The department licenses and disciplines doctors, and Smith has asked whether or not it would be "deemed unlawful or otherwise subject to discipline" for doctors to use ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine or other "off-label use" medications to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Peterson says that his office finds that "the available data do not justify filing disciplinary actions against physicians simply because they prescribe ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19."
However, he notes that health care providers in general may be subject to discipline if they neglect to obtain informed consent, deceive their patients, prescribe excessively high doses, fail to check for contraindication or engage in misconduct.
The opinion also states that allowing physicians to consider these early treatments will free them to evaluate for other tools that could save lives and keep patients out of hospitals and possibly find relief for the strained healthcare system as well. The legal opinion also notes that there may be other promising off-label medicines that help treat COVID-19.
"I haven't focused on the legality of it, I focused on the possible benefits that it might have for my patients, many of whom are quite ill with COVID," says Dr. Louis Safranek, a specialist in infectious diseases. He relates that he is still prescribing ivermectin to his patients, and more than 500 have successfully overcome the disease with its help.
Ivermectin is a generic medicine that is widely used against parasitic worms in humans. It can also be used to treat scabies, lice and rosacea. The drug has been praised by many doctors as a life-saving early treatment for COVID-19. There are groups pushing for the off-label use of ivermectin for COVID-19, as well as 45 peer-reviewed studies that support its use against the virus.
On the other hand, hydroxychloroquine is an anti-inflammatory and anti-malarial medication that gained scrutiny after former President Donald Trump said he took it as a prophylactic.
Last year, a medical journal published a paper condemning hydroxychloroquine before retracting it due to medical professionals raising major issues with the study. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine, however, found that hydroxychloroquine could help lower the COVID-19 mortality rates.
Many health experts and leading medical groups have been trying to stop the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine on patients, arguing that they can cause harmful side effects.
But ivermectin has been promoted by lawmakers, talk show hosts and doctors, and its effectiveness in treating COVID-19 has been amplified via social media to millions of people who don't want to get vaccinated. It has also been used in countries like India and Brazil. (Related: Widespread ivermectin use has caused a 97% drop in coronavirus cases in Delhi, India.)
Hydroxychloroquine became popular in the same manner. Kansas Senator Roger Marshall, who is also a doctor, acknowledged that he took hydroxychloroquine throughout his 2020 campaign, as did his parents, siblings and wife.
Meanwhile, a document from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website shows ivermectin as one of the three drugs in a chart titled "Characteristics of Antiviral Agents that are Approved or Under Evaluation for the Treatment of COVID-19." The other drugs in the chart are remdesivir and nitazoxanide.
On June 1, the Desert Review reported that ivermectin significantly reduced the COVID-19 infections in Delhi, India, which has a population of over 30 million.
Delhi health authorities began treating patients with ivermectin on April 20. At the time, it was dealing with nearly 30,000 new cases daily. By the end of May, COVID-19 cases in the metropolitan area plummeted to less than 1,000 new cases per day.
Get more news and updates about COVID-19 drugs and treatments at Pandemic.news.