(The Center Square) – Public health groups are urging New Hampshire lawmakers to sustain Gov. Chris Sununu's veto of a bill authorizing pharmacists to dispense the drug ivermectin to treat COVID-19 without a prescription.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the bill in the previous session allowing pharmacists to make the anti-parasitic drug available via standing order as part of an effort to expand the availability of the medicine.

Ivermectin was touted by some as a home remedy for COVID-19 during the pandemic. It has also become a political flashpoint in the debate over treatment for the virus.

But Sununu vetoed the bill when it reached his desk, arguing that the medicine hasn't been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that it is safe to treat the coronavirus.

Lawmakers are expected to return to session briefly in September to consider a number of veto overrides, including the ivermectin bill, and public health groups are making the case to lawmakers not to override Sununu's objections.

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In a statement, the New Hampshire Nurse Practitioner Association said it "strongly supports" Sununu's veto and said lawmakers "should listen to the experts" who have raised serious concerns about authorizing standing orders to distribute the anti-parasitic drug.

The association also criticized lawmakers for including a provision in the bill creating a commission to study the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, even as it is being distributed as an over-the-counter medicine, which it said would be "a waste of resources" for the state.

"This could be very aptly called “putting the horse before the cart” because ivermectin is most commonly used as a dewormer for horses," the group said.

In his veto message, Sununu pointed out that there are only four situations in which pharmacists can dispense medication without a prescription – smoking cessation, contraception, substance use disorder and treatment for sexual assault. He said all of those medications "have gone through rigorous reviews and vetting" to ensure they are safe.

"All drugs and medications should be subject to that same rigorous process if they are to be dispensed by standing order," Sununu wrote. "Further, regardless of this veto, Ivermectin remains available for individuals if prescribed by their doctor."

Critics have pointed out that there are approved treatments for COVID-19 available, such as the antiviral drugs Paxlovid and molnupiravir.

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Other public health groups including the American Medical Association, American Pharmacists Association and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists say they "strongly oppose" the ordering, prescribing or dispensing of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19, until clinical trials are conducted.

The National Institutes of Health said in a recent advisory to clinicians that "there is insufficient evidence" for federal health officials "to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19."

"Results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19," the federal agency said.

This story was produced by The Center Square, which is not affiliated with Granite Memo.

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