LITTLE ROCK — In a victory for civil rights and medical ethics, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas has successfully settled its case for detained plaintiffs for the controversial administration of the antiparasitic drug Ivermectin to people in the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) who were suffering from the respiratory virus COVID-19 but given the antiparasitic drug without their knowledge and consent. In addition, the detainees claimed that they were told the drug was steroids, antibiotics, and vitamins. The FDA and CDC issued warnings against the use of Ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Defendants in the case were Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder, Dr. Robert Karas, and Karas Correctional Health, which is owned and managed by Dr. Karas. 


The plaintiffs filed claims for the violations of their fundamental liberty interests in bodily integrity and protection against government actions that “shock the conscience” in violation of the right to due process under law as well as medical battery. Defendants admitted Dr. Karas and his company contracted with the county to provide care to people detained in WCDC and that detainees with a viral respiratory illness were given the antiparasitic, but maintained that Dr. Karas’ treatment was appropriate. 


In an order from March 16, rejecting Defendants’ attempts to have the case dismissed, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas recognized Plaintiffs’ claims for concealment of the fact that they were part of an experimental drug treatment protocol, the identity of the drug being tested in that protocol was concealed, as was information about the drug’s possible negative side effects. The Court held that the Plaintiffs had stated claims indicating that their rights to bodily integrity as protected by due process and to be free from battery were violated. 


The Court noted in its order that:

  • Dr. Karas prescribed Ivermectin to two sets of test subjects — patients in his private clinic who agreed to take Ivermectin as part of an experimental treatment for COVID-19, and people incarcerated in the WCDC who “did not know it included Ivermectin.”
  • Since Plaintiffs were not advised that their COVID-19 “treatments” contained Ivermectin, they were never warned about the drug’s side effects.
  • At first reading, it would seem highly unlikely — even implausible — that a doctor would have dosed his incarcerated patients with an experimental drug more aggressively than his private patients, but Plaintiffs point to proof in their medical records. 
  • Dr. Karas prescribed higher dosages of the drug to unwitting patients detained in WCDC than he did his private patients. The FDA had only approved a dosage of 0.2 mg/kg to treat worms. Yet, patients in WCDC received 2.75 to 6.3 times the approved dosages. 
  • Once Plaintiffs discovered they had been the subjects of a medical experiment, they “experienced mental distress, anger, and a lingering mistrust of Defendants and medical professionals generally.” 
  • Americans have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in refusing unwanted medical treatment and precedent provides that “where the human research subjects were not told that they were participating in an experiment and/or the government conducted the experiments knowing they had no therapeutic value, the subject’s constitutionally protected right to life and/or liberty had been violated. 
  • A reasonable doctor or sheriff would have understood that administering an experimental drug to prisoners without their knowledge would violate their due process rights. In so finding, the Court denied qualified immunity to the defendants, noting, “This is not a close call.”
  • The facts of the case state a plausible claim for medical battery based on affirmative concealment and intentional — rather than negligent — failure to obtain informed consent.


The ACLU of Arkansas, committed to defending and preserving civil liberties, took on this case to prevent further administration of medication without people’s knowledge and consent. Notice and consent procedures and forms have been improved for people detained in WCDC, and those who suffered the treatment received a monetary settlement of $2,000 each. While this resolution of this matter is significant, it underscores the undeniable reality that courts have limited powers and cannot alone rectify all injustices.


“These men are incredibly courageous and resilient to stand up to the abusive, inhumane experimentation they endured at the Washington County Detention Center,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson. “The experimental use of Ivermectin without the knowledge and consent of these patients was a grave violation of medical ethics and the rights of the patients and these brave clients prevented further violation of not only their own rights, but those of others detained in WCDC.”


It is important that county officials recognize and address problems immediately, and Arkansas must remain engaged in safeguarding our rights. Civil rights and liberties are under constant threat – especially for those who are detained or incarcerated, and the path to justice often requires collective action beyond the courtroom. 


Dickson added, “We must recognize that the fight for justice extends beyond the courtroom. Arkansans must be involved in our local government affairs, vote, and stay informed to bring about meaningful, lasting change and ensure that the rights of all people are protected.”


The ACLU of Arkansas remains dedicated to advocating for the civil rights and civil liberties of all people and fostering an informed and engaged citizenry.


More information on the case and a copy of the settlement can be found online here.




About the ACLU of Arkansas: The ACLU of Arkansas is a guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislature, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions and laws of the United States and Arkansas guarantee everyone. With more than 5,000 members and supporters across the state, the ACLU of Arkansas is one of the largest civil rights organizations in the Natural State.