Over the past three months, a TIME investigation found, hundreds of AFLD [America’s Frontline Doctors] customers and donors have accused the group of touting a service promising prescriptions for ivermectin, which medical authorities say should not be taken to treat or prevent COVID-19, and failing to deliver after a fee had been paid.
Some customers described being charged for consultations that did not happen. Others said they were connected to digital pharmacies that quoted excessive prices of up to $700 for the cheap medication. In more than 3,000 messages reviewed by TIME, dozens of people described their or their family members’ COVID-19 symptoms worsening while they waited for an unproven “wonder drug” that didn’t arrive.
The group’s profile has soared amid the rise of employer-imposed COVID-19 mandates and the emergence of ivermectin as an alternative treatment of choice for the broader anti-vaccine community. AFLD’s Telegram channels have rapidly grown to more than 160,000 users.
“They’re the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen,” says Irwin Redlener, a physician who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “And in the case of ivermectin, it’s extremely dangerous.”