Amid reports of some of the lowest COVID-19 case counts in Colorado since the pandemic began – a strong sign that existing COVID protocols such as vaccines are working – state Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose) is attempting to resurrect a failed bill that seeks to legitimize dangerous and unproven treatments for the illness.
This year marks the second time Luck has introduced an ”Off-Label Use Of Approved Drugs To Treat COVID-19” bill, which seeks to clear a legal pathway for doctors to write off-label prescriptions for drugs “including hydroxychloroquine sulfate and ivermectin” for the treatment of COVID. The bill is co-sponsored by eight fellow Republicans: state Sens. Dennis Hisey of Colorado Springs, Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, and Rob Woodward of Loveland; and state Reps. Tim Geitner of Falcon, Andres Pico of Colorado Springs, Kim Ransom of Douglas County, Janice Rich of Mesa County, and Dave Williams of Colorado Springs.
“We need to have our medical professionals’ hands untied and [restore] their ability to once again treat their patients according to their Hippocratic Oath,” Luck said on Randy Corporon’s KNUS radio show on Saturday morning.
The Hippocratic Oath, which medical students take as part of their journey towards becoming physicians, includes the promise to “do no harm.”
But according to the FDA, the unproven medical treatments Luck supports – hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin – have caused harmful effects in patients and offer no proven protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Yet Luck still claimed, baselessly, that the drugs should be recognized as valid treatments for COVID, especially since they have been on the market for many years.
Speaking to Corporon, Luck said, “It boggles the mind why, at a time when everyone was saying, ‘We don’t know what to do, we’re going to shut everything down … and you’re going to have to sequester in your home because our desire is to save just one life.’ And then at the same time, deny treatments that have been on the market for decades.”
Luck’s comment about “saving just one life” came as the national death toll from COVID was nearing 1 million people. Nevertheless, it’s true that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin have, indeed, been on the market for decades. Both drugs have established medical uses – and those uses are completely unrelated to COVID.
The first, hydroxychloroquine, is an anti-inflammatory medication that’s approved to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. A large, peer-reviewed study by the WHO did not find the drug to significantly impact COVID deaths or hospitalizations. The FDA has also cited reports of heart, kidney and liver problems in connection with the drug.
Meanwhile, ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug primarily used in veterinary care, is approved for use in humans to treat diseases caused by parasitic worms, head lice, and some skin conditions. But the drug can interact with other medications, such as blood thinners, and can cause toxic effects. There’s been a 163% increase in ivermectin poisonings since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Although former President Donald Trump famously touted the two medications as possible COVID treatments, causing them to catch on among conservatives, neither has been proven safe or effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The FDA has not approved either drug as a treatment for COVID.
On Corporon’s radio show, Luck repeated an oft-cited claim that researchers of the drugs had won Nobel Prizes “because of [the drugs’] efficacy and safety.” A fact check revealed that avermectin, a precursor to ivermectin, did win its developers a Nobel Prize in 2015, but the award was related to the drug’s ability to treat parasites – not COVID, which didn’t exist at the time.
The “Nobel Prize” defense of ivermectin may have stemmed from a scientific review that drew a dubious and unfounded connection between the 2015 prize and ivermectin’s supposed ability to treat COVID. Coauthored by discredited cardiologist Peter McCullough, the paper cited numerous poor-quality studies, including a potentially fraudulent non-peer-reviewed preprint study out of Egypt that has since been retracted, to back up its claims.
Even so, Luck’s bill would allow physicians the freedom to prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as COVID treatments. Luck noted that it’s “common practice within medicine” for doctors to prescribe FDA-approved drugs for off-label use.
Speaking to Corporon, Luck said that FDA approval of a drug indicates that “it’s generally safe. And so, under that ‘general safe’ category, doctors have been able to prescribe, and pharmacists dispense, these drugs for a whole range of other treatments.”
Luck found a sympathetic audience in Corporon, a conservative lawyer and election conspiracist. He took numerous opportunities to fan the flames throughout their conversation, calling COVID the “CCP virus” (referring to the Chinese Communist Party), referring to the “dangerous vaccine,” and claiming he had seen no reports of anyone being harmed by hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin.
Calling an FDA-approved drug “generally safe” for all purposes is misleading, at best. The FDA’s website states that the agency only approves drugs for specific purposes, and it does not guarantee the safety or efficacy of those same drugs being used in non-recommended ways. The FDA recommends that health care providers consider approved drugs before deciding on a non-approved course of treatment for an illness like COVID.
Representatives will hear testimony and vote on Luck’s bill at a hearing next Wednesday, March 16. The hearing was originally scheduled for yesterday but was postponed due to an abortion-rights bill that was introduced last week and fast-tracked for voting.
The first version of Luck’s bill, introduced in March 2021, was struck down by the House Health and Insurance Committee in a 5-8 vote along party lines (with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing the measure). House Democrats called the bill “dangerous legislation” that “recklessly promotes the use” of unproven treatments for COVID.
Among the witnesses expected to testify at next week’s hearing is Dr. Rae Ann Weber, an osteopath who Luck said faces a disciplinary hearing over her off-label prescriptions of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Joe Oltmann, podcast host and founder FEC United, a conservative group with a militia wing, named Weber as a member of the group’s board of directors.
The Colorado Springs Independent also reported that last year, while she was a candidate for the Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 Board of Education, Weber was arrested along with fellow candidate May Louise Fiddler for trespassing on a high school campus and preparing to take part in an anti-mask protest with students. Neither Weber nor Fiddler was elected to the school board.
Luck’s new bill, whose language is almost identical to last year’s bill, is unlikely to pass. Although the committee’s ranks have seen some turnover since last year, nine of last year’s 13 committee members remain, and the balance of power still favors Democrats.
Still, Luck remains hopeful that some lawmakers will have changed their minds since last year’s vote.
Last year, Luck told Corporon, Democrats “made statements to the effect that their hope was that people would not need these kinds of treatments because everyone would be vaccinated. But now, you know, hopefully the situation has changed enough for them, and they can look at this issue with fresh eyes.”