Freedom matters in America.
It is written on our money, chiselled into our building’s facia and sung about and celebrated with gusto.
It is also assumed by many to be more important than being factually correct – ‘free to be wrong’ is fast becoming the American right’s new battle cry.
Hence the curious case of Ivermectin.
This drug is used across America to de-worm livestock; ponies, donkeys, horses and cows. But since an-anti vax group with strong ties to the Capitol riots started promoting it online, it has become the drug of choice for many of those suffering with or fearful of COVID-19 in large parts of America.
According to media reports across the country, stores in Oklahoma are struggling to keep Ivermectin in stock. In Mississippi, 70% of calls to the state’s poison control center are about ingestion of ivermectin meant for animals and purchased at livestock supply centers. And, of course, in Alabama poison control centers are swamped with calls regarding the horse and cow drug.
So how has this happened? Why have thousands and thousands of people decided to consume an ointment with a picture of a horse on the box?
Many of those taking the drug are followers of right-wing or alt-right social media forum. Here, all kinds of miracle cures are proffered, and all are proudly portrayed as the solution “the government doesn’t want you to know about.”
As a former advertising man, I can see the allure of this promotional pitch – Conspiracy Sells – but you would hope the small print at the bottom of the screen backed up some of the more peculiar claims.
A shady organization, America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLD), is at the centre of this latest snake oil scam. According to newspaper investigations, they have been running adverts for Ivermectin on these alternative radio, podcasts and websites and, after receiving vast amounts of cash in online orders, have failed to deliver and sloped off into the shadows.
Regulators are on their trail now. Not because they are peddling horse and cow drugs to desperately ill people, but because they didn’t file their taxes.
While AFLD presents itself as a non-partisan group of medical professionals who ‘just want to tell you the truth’, they are registered in the state of Arizona – a hotbed for conspiracy theories – as the Free Speech Foundation.
AFLD was founded by Dr Simone Gold, an LA doctor, who was arrested at the Jan 6 riots in Washington D.C. It initially was a group founded to support Trump claims about the COVID Conspiracy, appearing on the steps of the Capitol at a rally calling the pandemic a hoax, later switching to be a supportive voice for the promotion of hydroxychloroquine as the miracle cure and then, like all whack American schemes, tumbled downhill to providing ‘expert opinion’ for legal cases involving parents who won’t vaccinate their children or wear masks in public.
But it appears sometime earlier this year, they suddenly realised the vast profitability of flogging cheap animal medicine at exorbitant costs but not dispatching them. Duped customers report paying up to $7000 for a tele-consultation and a dose of the horse pills. Thousands of potential customers are still waiting for the pills they may be better off not receiving. Caveat Emptor, I suppose.
So deep is America’s distrust of government, rules and science, people wholeheartedly buy-in to the conspiracy theory and its multiple spin offs and scams.
And many of these ideas are given the oxygen of credibility by those at the very top. There is a senior politician in Wisconsin called Ron Johnson. He is probably the grand wizard of conspiracy theories, always ready to pop up on TV or social media to decry conventional wisdom. In his universe, and that of his followers, there doesn’t appear to be a cause, an event or a happening which isn’t part of a huge conspiracy to overthrow America and freedom and replace it with a socialist super state or such.
But this isn’t a fringe voice from the outer-suburbs of reality, this is a man who is chair of the powerful Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. As a freedom lover, Senator Johnson is prolific in his condemnation of anything regulated or government-endorsed – the internet, the media, vaccines, infrastructure, technology, Iranian missiles, State Fairs – there is no topic the senator hasn’t used his twitter account to weave into his gordian knot of conspiracies.
So, of course quack medicine gets his support too. To be fair, there are versions of Ivermectin which are prescribed for human conditions – most notably intestinal parasites and headlice. But they are fundamentally different formulations from the powerful doses intended for cattle and working horses and have no ability to cure COVID.
Worried by the situation in the southern and southwestern states the Food and Drug Administration took the unusual step of issuing a tweet written in a folksy vernacular:
“You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
Imagine that from the NHS to the citizens of Leeds: ‘Ey up, lay off t’horse pills’ or the people of Liverpool; “Oi Soft lad – enough with the animal garys.”
I’m not sure tweets in local slang are going to help when people will fight for their freedom to do what they want to do irrespective of the potential consequences or deadly risks.
Freedom is important. We will fight to protect it. But sometimes people need protecting from themselves.
America has to ask, how have we got to a situation where fewer than 30% of the population of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have taken advantage of any of the three free vaccines – including Pfizer’s FDA approved shot – but are queuing up to buy horse pills online?