URBANDALE, Iowa –About 16 million Americans suffer from a major depressive disorder and nearly a third don't find relief from traditional treatments. An old drug is offering new hope for people who've struggled to feel better.
"I was miserable and having a hard time functioning in daily life," said Cassie Smith. She suffers from PTSD and chronic depression. Medication and therapy weren't working.
"My senses were so dull from the depression that I wasn't aware of my surroundings. I couldn't look at my children and see how incredible and beautiful they were. I was just numb to most pleasant emotions," she said.
That's when she came to the Iowa Ketamine Clinic. It opened a couple months ago in Urbandale. Dr. Alan Young isn't a Psychiatrist. He's an Anesthesiologist, and the treatment isn't a pill. He said, "Usually what happens is the psychiatrist has tried everything on this patient, all the drugs they usually use. The patient doesn't have a satisfactory result. They say, why don't you try ketamine. It's a new thing."
Ketamine has been used as anesthesia since the early 70's. The FDA hasn't approved it to be used for depression, but the agency is fast tracking two forms. Dr. Young said, "It's an off-label use of the drug, which means it's perfectly legal to use it, but they don't recognize it for depression. The big problem with that is insurance won't cover it."
Ketamine is administered through an IV while the patient is monitored. Each infusion takes about forty minutes and costs $500 at the Iowa Ketamine Clinic. Patients need about six in a two-week period, and then boosters after that. Doctors say more studies need to be done, but the drug seems to work quickly and help patients who haven't gotten better with other treatments.
Dr. Scott Jennisch with Iowa Psychiatry Clinic said, "Ketamine is probably the most exciting breakthrough in the treatment of major depressive disorder that we've had in perhaps 50 years."
Smith still sees her psychiatrist, but said the ketamine gave her a new lease on life. "I feel incredible. I feel amazing. I feel like I can finally enjoy my great job, my great husband, my incredible kids. It's wonderful,” she said.
The Iowa Ketamine Clinic is the only one in central Iowa. Another doctor offers the treatment in the Cedar Rapids area. Most other clinics are located on the coasts.