"We asked him, 'What's wrong with your horse?" store manager Cheryl Capo tells New Times. "And he said, 'Oh, my vet said to give it to him.'"
Capo says that Finish Line Feeds began seeing an uptick in customers shopping for ivermectin about three months ago. She says store workers can usually tell whether people are buying the drug for their own consumption or for their horses. Various health agencies have repeatedly warned against using ivermectin for purposes other than those approved by the FDA, and Capo says staff advised the man against ingesting the medicine they sell, which is formulated for animals. After several weeks of frequenting the store, the customer stopped showing up.
Finish Line Feeds is one of several animal feed stores in South Florida whose employees tell New Times there's been a sudden uptick in people buying the anti-parasitic drug, which has been used and misleadingly peddled as a COVID-19 treatment. While little evidence exists to suggest it works to treat or prevent the virus, the drug has soared in demand owing in part to promotion by right-wing media outlets and commentators like Joe Rogan.
Florida's Poison Control Centers recently reported a sudden spike in calls about ivermectin, with most callers having used a version of the preparation manufactured for animals. Last month, the centers triaged 27 people for exposure, with the most serious cases resulting in seizures and hospitalizations.
Wendy Stephan, a health education coordinator and epidemiologist for the centers, told New Times that the recent rise in ivermectin poisoning cases can be attributed in part to ivermectin's accessibility without a prescription at animal feed stores. She said it's concerning to see people use veterinary formulations of the drug that are designed for animals that can weigh more than a ton. Such concentrations, she says, are not made for human consumption.
Since the end of August, Grifs Feed & Supply Store in Davie has struggled to restock its shelves with ivermectin. It was two or three weeks ago when employees began to see a dizzying number of customers buying the dewormer, which sold out over the course of only a few days, before management had the chance to post warnings around the store about the dangers of human ingestion of the drug.
"We kind of sold out of it before we even knew what it was being used for," says a store employee who asked New Times not to publish her name. "People had mentioned it but it was already kind of too late, you know?"
At one point, it seemed like one in every five customers who entered the store was in search of ivermectin, the employee recalled. Many were candid with employees about their reason for purchasing it.
"Everyone comes in and says, 'I want to use it for COVID,'" the employee says. "Obviously, we can't give a dosage. But people bought it [all up] in like two, three days."
The employee says she's heard several horse owners' concerns about how they'll treat their animals if the drug remains sold out, and whether the shortages will imperil the lives of animals who need it.
At Finish Line Feed, several signs were posted around the store warning customers about the dangers of consuming the veterinary medicine. Capo says customers take down the signs.
"I don't know what happens to them," Capo says. "They disappear."
Until the feed store is instructed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or another agency to restrict the sale of ivermectin, Capo says she's not really sure what else she can do to prevent people from using it as COVID-19 treatment.
"It's crazy that people don't want to get vaccinated, but they want to take a horse dewormer that's meant to remove parasites," she says.