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Drug Once Abused On The Club Scene Is Now In Prescription Form To Treat Depression

A drug with a long history of abuse is now being used to treat depression. Known as “Special K” on the club scene, the FDA has now approved ketamine as a nasal spray. Some patients and doctors say it’s a game changer.

For a while, Bracken Funk, of Lindon, thought he was out of options. His dog, Rocky, a cross between a border collie and a poodle, isn’t just a pet but a trained service dog that helps him through PTSD episodes. “I can honestly say he saved my life,” Bracken said.

With the help of Rocky, and what Bracken says is a very helpful drug, he’s finding relief from depression and anxiety. “I’ve tried everything under the sun. No one should have to feel like that.” He’s had eight treatments of Spravato, a brand-name for esketamine, the newly FDA approved nasal spray for depression. It doesn’t replace antidepressants but mental health professionals say it’s good at suppressing suicide suicidal thoughts.

“It’s kind of a sister molecule of ketamine,” said Dr. Reid Robison, MD, a psychiatrist with Cedar Psychiatry in Springville.

Ketamine has been used as a general anesthetic since the 1970s. Robison says esketamine, the nasal spray, is a cleaned up version of ketamine that minimizes side effects. “We are embracing it wholeheartedly,” he said.

So far, it’s helping Funk. “To be able to flip that lens and see a different view and it’s not all black, and there’s hope and power that hope; it’s unlike anything else I’ve tried.“

Robison said, “The typical course of treatment involves twice a week for the first month, once a week for the second month.” He says it works by creating neuroplasticity in the brain, or new connections.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found, “Significant improvement in depressive symptoms,” for adults using the nasal spray.

That’s good news for Connie Harton, of Riverton. “It’s been an ongoing battle for me as long as I can remember,” she said. “Depression continues to hang on and has a chokehold of me.” Ketamine injections worked for her. Doctors have been trying it as a treatment for depression for years. But since injections aren’t officially approved for mental health conditions, they’re not covered by health insurance. “I basically felt like I could see the old me coming back,” she said.

Spravato, the nasal spray, is typically covered by insurance. Harton says it has fewer side effects, but for her, it hasn’t been as helpful or effective as the injections. “I would say ‘no’ if I’m going to be really honest.”

Robison says neither the nasal or spray or injections are long-term treatments. “For some, it’s enough to pull them out of an episode of depression,” he said.

Harton said, “I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and helpless.” Her struggle has lasted 25 years.

It’s been tough for Funk, too. “Just try to keep putting one foot in front of the other,” he said.

But now they have what they lacked before: hope.

As these treatments become more popular, experts recommend you make sure you choose a reputable clinic. Ketamine should be given in close collaboration with a mental health professional.

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