The recent discovery of the anti-parasite drug ivermectin hidden inside a stuffed animal belonging to a COVID-19 patient admitted to the ICU in Windsor, Ont., is a scary reminder of why patients need to be transparent with their medical care providers, according to an official with the Canadian Pharmacists Association.
Dr. Danielle Paes, who is the organization's chief pharmacist officer, said it also speaks to the desperation people have to keep themselves healthy during an ongoing pandemic.
"I think the scariest part for me when I hear a story like that is that ... when a patient's admitted into ICU, there's a team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists that are there to make sure that they are safe and well, and they can only operate with the information that they have in front of them," said Paes.
"When you see a situation like this where a patient has brought in an additional therapy, and the rest of the team is unaware, it puts into place... the risks of something going terribly wrong because all the clinical decisions being made are absent of this missing piece of information."
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."
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen's University, said last week that no doctors he's aware of would prescribe ivermectin for someone with COVID-19.
Risks of misinformation during the pandemic
But some people continue to push ivermectin as a treatment option for people who have COVID-19.
"The thing that comes to mind is just the realization of how desperate people are," said Paes.
"It's a scary world out there, and I understand it from that perspective that people just want to stay well and stable, stay alive and get through this."
Watch: Dr. Paes said patients are more informed than ever - but expert advice remains key
She said people might seek options online and be met with misinformation which may result in serious consequences.
"Drugs are not all compatible with each other. Some drugs can have drug interactions, and the consequences of mixing medications that don't work well together can be pretty severe," said Paes.
"If you read something on Twitter, you read something on Instagram... make sure it's credible. And if you have any questions, you can turn to your pharmacist to validate what you've read and to get clarification from a reliable source."
Pharmacists' role evolving in Canada
Paes said community pharmacists have watched their roles change during the pandemic into educators.
"We're starting to see the evolution of the role of the pharmacist and the place we have in public health, in helping educate patients about the medications that are available to them," said Paes.
"And so we're seeing it more and more pharmacists are happy and often excited to share the the knowledge that they have and to help combat the misinformation that's out there because it's so important to keeping Canadians safe."