The widespread and potentially illegal distribution of the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin has resulted in a red flag warning from the Philippine Pharmacists Association (PPA).

Not only is the unregulated sale of the drug — intended for pets but offered as a protection against coronavirus — a violation of the country’s Philippine Pharmacy Act, it also poses potential health risks for users, PPA President Gilda Sanjay warned last week.

In an interview with local media, Sanjay said the PPA members were “deeply concerned over the distribution of Ivermectin as protection against COVID-19.”

Two members of the House of Representatives distributed Ivermectin to 200 residents of Quezon City last week despite warnings from doctors and various medical organizations that there was scant evidence the drug would prevent, much less treat, coronavirus.

Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta and party-list Rep. Michael Defensor even said they would go to court if anyone tried to stop them from continuing their planned distribution of the drug.

The two presented prescriptions from alleged physicians to show that their dispensing of Ivermectin was aboveboard.

But all the recipients were made to sign waivers absolving the lawmakers of responsibility in the event those who took the drug suffered ill effects. Moreover, media practitioners noted that the “prescriptions” were little more than crudely written notes on ordinary sheets of paper and did not bear the names of the physicians or their license numbers, as required by law.

One alleged physician who admitted being among those who issued the questionable prescriptions said that because he was old, he often “forgot” his license number.

Sanjay pointed out that the action of the two congressmen was a violation of Republic Act 10918, otherwise known as the Philippine Pharmacy Act.

She said, “It is clear that they used violative prescriptions.”

Under Health department guidelines, only registered pharmacists may dispense of drugs with a doctor’s prescription and only hospitals with compassionate special permits (CSPs) can give Ivermectin for coronavirus patients.

Only five hospitals have been granted CSPs by the Department of Health.

Concerns have also been raised over the possibility that fake Ivermectin is being sold surreptitiously in such places as Binondo, Sta. Cruz and Divisoria, all in the capital city of Manila.

Legitimate Ivermectin has also risen dramatically in price since early reports said it could be effective against COVID-19, rising fourfold since the first quarter of this year when it typically sold at PHP35/tablet (US$0.88).

The FilAm Star was able to purchase Ivermectin online. The drug was delivered within 24 hours after ordering. The manufacturer was labelled as a company in India and each tablet was 12 milligrams instead of the usual 15 mg.

The Quezon City Health department said they could not stop the distribution of Ivermectin by the two lawmakers or anyone else since the drug was still undergoing studies, either as a prophylaxis or as a cure for coronavirus.

“We cannot use nor endorse it,” a representative from the department said.

Even the Justice Department did not take a stand for or against Defensor and Marcoleta.

“In its face,” Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said, the distribution of the controversial drug was a violation of the Food and Drug Administration law, which prohibits the promotion of unregistered medical products in the Philippines.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule, Guevarra said, adding that the legal bases remain unclear.

He added: “I wouldn’t really blame Defensor and Marcoleta if they would proceed but as I said, this is subject to further determination if there is legal basis for the exemption. So, I leave it to them.”

Ivermectin is a registered anti-parasitic drug for use on animals such as cats and dogs.

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