Tweets land ex-Senator in hot water

Former senator threatened with fine of up to $1.11 million and even imprisonment over tweets promoting ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19

Former Senator David Leyonhjelm has been pulled up by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) over tweets about the drug ivermectin in the context of treatment for COVID-19.

On 2 February, Mr Leyonhjelm tweeted a photo of a horse medicine product along with the text: “In several countries, ivermectin is being used to treat Covid. For those who want some, this horse product is probably the most economical source. Enough to treat the street too.”

The regulator was alerted to the tweet and, following investigation, concluded that it constituted advertising for the promotion of medicines containing ivermectin as a therapeutic good, for the treatment of COVID-19 in humans.

This was a contravention of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, the TGA argued.

It pointed out that ivermectin is an active ingredient included in Schedule 4 to the current Poisons Standard, and that the tweet contained “a restricted representation, being a reference to a disease (COVID-19) that is a serious form of a disease”.

Nicole McLay, Assistant Secretary of Regulatory Compliance at the TGA, sent a letter to Mr Leyonhjelm on 4 February requesting that he immediately remove the tweet.

She warned that the alleged contravention could result in civil penalties of up to $1.11 million.

During a purported telephone call between the TGA and Mr Leyonhjelm the following day, Mr Leyonhjelm requested the letter be re-sent to him.

However according to the TGA, Mr Leyonhjelm did not remove the original tweet and photo, but instead re-tweeted it on 5 February with the added text: “The TGA (following a complaint from some snivelling toad) has written to say I’m promoting human use of an animal product. Promoting? Which part of “for those who want some” did they miss? Also, every horse owner in the country knows this.”

In the TGA’s direction, Ms McLay alleged that this additional tweet was a further contravention that carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 12 months and a fine of up to $222,000.

She again directed Mr Leyonhjelm to cease advertising medicines containing ivermectin, and to cease making claims or representations in any advertisement for a therapeutic good concerning any effect on COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health emergency that is causing significant concern in the Australian community,” Ms McLay wrote.

“Your advertising further presents a specific risk to members of the public, insofar as it may encourage them to obtain and take ivermectin as a treatment or prophylaxis for COVID-19 rather than obtaining and following the advice of appropriately qualified medical practitioners.”

Mr Leyonhjelm appears to have now removed both posts from Twitter.

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