A COVID-19 patient tried to sneak the anti-parasite drug ivermectin into Windsor Regional Hospital by hiding it inside a stuffed animal, according to an internal memo sent to staff at the Ontario hospital on Friday.
David Musyj, the hospital's chief executive officer, wrote that the adult patient brought the stuffed animal to the intensive-care unit.
"As the staff member was collecting the patient's personal belonging, the staff noticed a slit in the stuffed animal. Inside of it was Ivermectin," wrote Musyj in the memo obtained by CBC News.
A spokesperson for the hospital confirmed the memo was authentic, and said the hospital would not comment further on the matter.
Ivermectin has been promoted by conservative commentators, particularly in the U.S., as a treatment for COVID-19 despite a lack of conclusive evidence that it helps people with the virus.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said early studies indicated it was a possible treatment for COVID-19.
"That was based on the fact that in a test tube, it seemed to have some activity," Evans told CBC News on Friday. "But what we found out since then is that many of these observations, many of the trials, were done very poorly. In fact, some of them were retracted as being false, and so they were pulled out of the published literature.
"When you look at an analysis of all the remaining things that are there, there is absolutely no indication that ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID, that would prevent you from getting into hospital or from dying of COVID. It just doesn't work."
Evans said no doctors he's aware of would prescribe ivermectin for someone with COVID-19.
"What people are then doing is they're purchasing the formulation that's used in animals," he said. "Those are dose adjusted for large animals like horses or cows.
"If you're taking that, there's a serious likelihood that you will get a very major side effect from the medication. You could even find yourself ... poisoning yourself."
Warnings issued against drug's COVID-19 use
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization said evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients is "inconclusive," and should only be reserved for clinical trials until more data is available.
Health Canada had advised people not to take ivermectin as a drug to treat COVID-19, warning "there is no evidence that ivermectin in either [the human or veterinary] formulation is safe or effective when used for those purposes."
The Canadian Pharmacists Association has also issued warnings that the drug could make people sicker.
"The use of this medication for COVID is really putting people who are already in a difficult situation in an even worse situation," said the association's Barry Power in the fall of 2021.
"I would really urge people to think twice before trying to access this medication that has been proven to do nothing in the case of COVID."
In September, Dr. Wassim Saad, Windsor Regional Hospital's chief of staff, warned against using the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.
"For a medical professional, it's a bit frustrating," Saad said at the time. "If you have a medical problem, why are you going to the internet? Why are you going to unproven and untested sources instead of going to regulated health-care professionals who can actually tell you the real answer?"
'Be cognizant of patients' belongings'
In the memo, Musyj commended the staff member for finding the drug hidden inside the stuffed animal and urged employees to keep an eye out for suspicious objects.
"Moving forward, please be cognizant of patients, belongings with COVID-19," wrote Musyj.
"I know we are sometimes concerned about illicit drugs being brought into hospital, but now we need to be cognizant of it happening with COVID-19 [positive] patients."
Evans said it's the first time he's heard of an incident similar to the one at the Windsor hospital, but wouldn't be surprised if more take place.
"When you're really stressed, and anxious and worrying, you will find yourself trying to come up with simple solutions," he said. "Ivermectin did capture the, I guess, the imagination of many people who were looking for something that would be a simple solution.
"And it also falls into a bit of the range that somehow ... medicine was trying to hide this as a cure. So when that happens, you become very firmly entrenched into that sort of belief system."
Evans also advised people not to trust everything they read on social media when it comes to the pandemic.
"It's better to really try and go to people who have the right knowledge and are going to give you information that's objective, and not trying to somehow benefit them in any way," he said. "That's one of the dangers that we've seen throughout the pandemic."