The Media Fell for a Viral Hoax About Ivermectin Overdoses Straining Rural Hospitals
KFOR, an Oklahoma news channel, reported last week that rural hospitals throughout the state were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by victims of a very specific poisoning: overdoses of ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug promoted by vaccine skeptics as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
The story went viral, and was seized upon by the mainstream media. But its central claim is substantially untrue.
The meat of the story is a series of quotes from an Oklahoma doctor, Jason McElyea, who appears to attribute overcrowding at local hospitals to a deluge of ivermectin overdoses.
“The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated,” McElyea told KFOR’s Katelyn Ogle.
The story ran under the headline: “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances.” It was quickly picked up by national news outlets such as Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and The New York Daily News. Numerous high-profile media figures, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, tweeted about ivermectin overdoses straining Oklahoma hospitals—the implication being that the rightwing embrace of a crank COVID-19 cure was not only dangerous for the people who consumed it, but for the stability of the entire entire medical system.
It was a story that appeared to confirm many of the mainstream media’s biases about the recklessness of the rubes. But it’s extremely misleading. There is, in fact, little reason to believe a purported strain on Oklahoma hospitals is caused by ivermectin overdoses; one hospital served by the doctor quoted in the KFOR article released a statement saying it has not treated any ivermectin overdoses, nor has it been forced to turn away patients.
This is yet another example of the mainstream media lazily circulating a narrative that flatters the worldview of the liberal audience, without bothering to check on any of the details. Additional reporting was sorely needed here, and has now completely undermined the central point of the story.
It’s instructive to take a closer look at what went wrong. Rolling Stone‘s version of the story, for instance, quoted from McElyea’s interview with KFOR and did not provide any additional reporting or independently verified information. The image that accompanied the article on Twitter featured people waiting in long lines while wearing winter coats—which does not inspire great confidence that Rolling Stone knows what season it is in Oklahoma at present—and was summarized thusly: “Gunshot victims left waiting as horse dewormer overdoses overwhelm Oklahoma hospitals, doctor says.”
Rolling Stone has now appended an update at the top of the story, clarifying that there were 459 case of ivermectin overdoses in the U.S. during the month of Au
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