LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A recent decision by the FDA is taking Ketamine from disco drug to possible depression cure and a Little Rock mental health clinic is sharing stories from patients who said it saved their lives.
The analgesic can become a hallucinogenic if abused, but the medical community has known for years about it’s potential for treating depression. The drug has the ability to rewire the brains of people who are not responding to current depression medications.
“This is not a lie. This is reality and it’s working for me,” said Dionisios Nicholes, a retired master sergeant in the Marine Corps who flew all the way to Little Rock from Hawaii to tout how Ketamine saved his life. “It was every day I was trying to find a way to kill…to get rid of myself.”
Nicholes tried every kind of therapy and all the medications after injuries while serving his country threw him for a loop mentally. He eventually found his way to a place called Alleviant Health Center in Hawaii to take an IV infusion of the mild pain killer once abused on the disco and rave scene.
“All I can say is that really it feels like it takes away layers of rage and anger away,” Nicholes said. “It takes layers of that depression away and when I get those thoughts.”
Until the FDA decision, patients like Nicholes had to pay cash to take the drug “off label.”
“This medicine specifically is approved for treatment resistant depression. That’s a population of about 30 million people,” said Brian Mears, the CEO of the Little Rock Alleviant office. “We are very excited that the FDA has cleared a version of it meaning that insurance companies will finally begin to pay.”
Alleviant’s offices boast treatment rooms with large easy chairs where a patient can undergo treatment as an attendant looks on and while vital signs are monitored. The rooms are usually darkened and patients are encouraged to sleep. Side-effects include heightened awareness, and special distortions – a room will feel bigger and sounds seem louder. Those qualities are what made ketamine so popular as a street drug but can also lead to nausea and vertigo. A patient is required to stay in the clinic for at least two hours after the infusion or taking it via nasal spray. Those tight controls are things Mears points to as ways to prevent abuse.
“You can’t go home with it,” said Mears, who was a nurse in the Army before going into the private sector. “You can’t get it. We can’t send you to the pharmacy and get it. You can only be given that medicine in our clinic.”
Advocates hope those protections reserve the drug for the truly deserving and desperate.
“This was my last hope,” Nicholes said. “I didn’t think this actually was going to help, but it does.”
Mears couldn’t offer specifics on how much the treatment costs since different insurance plans will vary by patients. Cash-based clinics typically charge $500 per dose, with the treatment lasting two to three weeks when it is then paired with a traditional depression medication.
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