Local doctors have mixed reaction on anesthetic drug used to treat depression

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(Jan. 8, 2015)-- Ketamine is an old drug, used on soldiers in the battlefields of Vietnam.  It’s a drug intended as an anesthetic, but now researchers have discovered ketamine can relieve the symptoms of depression.

Its side effects are well known on the street: hallucinations. Thus, the name “Special K.”

Dr. Steve Best, a neuropsychiatrist from the Chicago area, uses it for some of his patients.

“I have patients who are crippled with depression or depression and pain,” said Best.  “Crippled with pain syndrome, untreatable pain syndromes, who are now on modest amounts of medicines and gone back to business.”

The trouble is ketamine is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of depression, although studies are underway.

When it is prescribed for depression, the medicine must be infused into the patient. That process takes four hours to be completed, and the patient normally has up to 10 infusions to get the relief they are seeking.

So anesthesiologists, like Dr. Ed Kolowitz, are usually called in to administer this drug, mainly because of some dangerous side effects.

“You can stop breathing, you can become apoxic, aspirate, the whole Joan Rivers story,” said Dr. Kolowitz.

Local psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, has chosen not to prescribe it all.

“I’m not at this time, until there’s research to clearly support the safety and long term efficacy,” said Dr. Cunningham.  “I don’t think it’s ready to be utilized in broad clinical practice.”

Dr. Best believes ketamine has been studied enough.  But he believes insurance companies are reluctant to pay psychiatrists, so he is forced to accept the few patients, who can pay cash.

Drug companies are hoping to resolve the issues by developing medicines that work like ketamine, but without the hallucinogenic side effects.

Naurex, based out of Illinois, is developing GLYX-13, a treatment it hopes may be on the market by 2019, if Phase 3 trials are completed safely and effectively.

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