Attacking Addiction: Cure in a Cocktail?

June 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some studies show more than half of all patients with a mental illness also suffer from addiction. More than 120,000 Americans die each year from alcohol or drug dependence. Support groups and counseling used to be the only ways to help these people. But what if there was a drug that could erase cravings? Does it sound to good to be true? There's a debate surrounding a prescription for addiction.Matt McLellan has battled addiction for much of his life. He started with alcohol. Then, it was marijuana. McLellan even used crystal meth, but his worst enemy was crack cocaine.

"It was just like an instant blast-off," McLellan told Ivanhoe. "I mean, it was just beyond any other drug."

His addiction was costly. His wife and three kids moved away. McLellan lost his house and spent more than $50,000 on the drug.

"I couldn't walk away until all of the money was gone," McLellan said.

He tried to quit for eight years, but nothing worked. To make matters worse, McLellan was also suffering from bipolar disorder.

"I so desperately wanted to stop, and just couldn't, and I mean, I was getting to the point of just wanting to kill myself because I couldn't stop," McLellan recalled.

But today, McLellan has been clean and sober for a year. He did it with a treatment called Prometa.

"I haven't seen anything else like it," Steve Ayers, D.O., an emergency medicine physician inAspen, Colo., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Ayers uses Prometa on patients who are addicted to cocaine, meth or alcohol. It involves three to five infusions of a drug used to treat overdose. Then, patients take daily doses of oral pills -- typically used to treat anxiety and seizures -- for about a month.

"It physiologically changes the brain tissue, the brain chemistry," Dr. Ayers said.

The theory is the drugs target areas on the brain called gaba receptors, which are in charge of calming hyper nerve cells. Some believe this lowers cravings.

"I have the conviction that it absolutely does work," Raymond Johnson, M.D., an addiction medicine specialist at Lifeworks in Ft.Myers, Fla., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Johnson has used Prometa on more than 200 patients. He says about 70 percent of them recovered completely on this medical treatment.

"Five, 10 years ago, psychosocial treatment was all that we had," Dr. Johnson said.

One pilot study showed 86 percent of patients that completed the treatment program remained drug-free after one year.

However, not everyone is convinced.

"There are no clinical trials that suggest the regimen is effective," John Mendelson, M.D., a senior scientist at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Mendelson says the studies were not double-blind, meaning Prometa has not been tested against a group of patients that receive no treatment.

"You are promoting a treatment that has no known efficacy to a group of people that can suffer a very severe consequence," Dr. Mendelson said. "That strikes me as unethical."

The regimen is not FDA-approved and can cost up to $15,000, which is not covered by insurance.

It worked for Monica Dibella. For years, she guzzled two bottles of wine a night.

"My bottles were my friends," Dibella told Ivanhoe. "They were my companions."

She tried AA and therapy sessions, but nothing worked until Prometa.

"It's relieved me of most of my urges," Dibella said.

She's been sober for almost a year.

McLellan also says Prometa made the difference in his recovery.

"I think I'm so blessed to have found a cure for this disease in my lifetime," McLellan said.

The drugs used in the Prometa cocktail are FDA-approved for other uses but not for addiction. They are part of a program that also includes nutritional supplements and counseling sessions.

Three double-blind, placebo-controlled studies at UCLA, Cedars-Sinai and the Institute of Addiction Medicine in Philadelphia are underway to further evaluate Prometa's success.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at mmedalie@ivanhoe.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
The Prometa Treatment Program
www.prometainfo.com
(800) 700-5500

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