Farmers and homesteaders nationwide are seeing shortages of ivermectin, but so far in Maine it is available. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Late summer is often a time when the need for anti-parasitics increases, as farmers and other livestock owners are preparing to deworm their animals. Livestock that are parasite-free over winter fare better and are more disease-resistant.

But demand for ivermectin has spiked due to misinformation suggesting the dewormer is effective in treating COVID-19. While there are ongoing clinical trials in the U.S. looking at the possibility of using ivermectin in such cases, the data have not shown effectiveness so far. The drug is approved to treat some internal parasites in humans and topically for lice. A veterinary form of ivermectin for livestock, available at feed stores, is not meant for human consumption.

But that has not stopped people from asking their doctors for prescriptions, or if that fails, purchasing over the counter animal-grade ivermectin to self-medicate. Interest in the drug is causing farm supply stores around the country to report shortages of the livestock dewormer. It’s gotten so bad that some farm supply stores are requiring people to bring in photographs of themselves with their livestock before they can purchase ivermectin.

In Maine, where ivermectin is typically plentiful on supply store shelves, finding the drug this year has become hit or miss. Some supply stores are well stocked, while others are sold out. It’s forcing local farmers to find new ways to obtain the drug, and to pay more for it than they did a year ago.

“I’ve had to look a lot harder for it this year,” said Tessa Flannery, who raises alpacas for their fiber in Linneus. “Some of our primary suppliers have been completely out of it.”

Flannery uses an injectable form of the dewormer monthly on her alpacas to prevent the parasitic meningeal worm or brain worm carried by deer. It can be fatal in alpacas, she said.

When Flannery did find ivermectin through Jeffers, an online livestock supply outlet, the price was double what she paid a year ago.

Ruth Juarez at Fruitful Hill Farm in Gardner also uses injectable ivermectin as a dewormer for her milking goats when needed.

“I have not found any yet but the only place I have looked is online,” Juarez said. “I usually just order it online but I will start to look around locally.”

Richard Knight, owner of Knight’s Farm Supply in Augusta, said he’s had a hard time getting the injectable ivermectin. “I should have some on Monday, but as of now I am cleaned out,” he said.

Blue Seal in Bangor is stocked with ivermectin, according to store manager Dustin Sirabella, who said he has not seen a price increase over last year in his store.

Tractor Supply Company stores in Maine referred any questions about ivermectin availability to their corporate office, which did not return calls for comment. At the company’s Bangor location, ivermectin was locked in a glass case with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning posted nearby.

Vicki Schmidt, owner of Troika Drafts & Harness Shop in Hebron, said she treats her six draft horses twice a year with the paste form of ivermectin which she gets directly from a national wholesale dealer. She also sells it in her harness shop.

“Most of my favorite brands are out of stock but are available for backorder,” Schmidt said. “I have backordered a supply but have not heard yet when it will be filled.”

In the meantime, Schmidt said she will be using less convenient holistic methods to deworm her horses.

Ivermectin was introduced as a veterinary drug in the late 1970s, and the discovery of its effectiveness in combating certain parasitic diseases in humans won the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine.

People have been self-treating with both forms of ivermectin, experts say. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, cases of people using both formulations have increased in 2021, as have calls to poison control centers.

“It’s not designed for humans,” Sirabella said. “So I am not sure why people would use it for that.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.