New depression drug can help people not responding to other antidepressants
The Morning Call’s latest article highlights the benefits and unusual but vital side-effects of the Ketamine Infusion process. Jan Scerbo, who has suffered from severe lifelong depression, describes her experience:
By Binghui Huang • Contact Reporter
Of The Morning Call
Jan Scerbo has suffered from depression her whole life. Last May, things got really bad. She was crying every day, and had trouble doing routine tasks such as showering.
“It’s a really dark, deep tunnel,” she said. “It’s like you’re in this dark hole and you have to pull yourself out and you have to fight every day.”
Her antidepressant medication didn’t help much.
So last month, she tried an alternative treatment for depression: ketamine, a hospital anesthetic that also gets abused as a party drug. Ketamine is gaining momentum as a depression treatment, especially after the Food and Drug Administration approved a version of the drug for that purpose earlier this month, which means that insurance companies will be more likely to cover its costs.
For people like Scerbo, ketamine offers a chance to beat back a stubborn disease when other medications don’t work. Antidepressants typically are 30 to 50 percent effective, said Dr. Raja Abbas, a psychiatrist who is using ketamine to treat Scerbo. But the FDA has not approved ketamine to treat depression. This month it did, however, approve a derivative of ketamine called esketamine. Administered in nasal form, esketamine now can be prescribed in conjunction with an oral antidepressant for adults with treatment-resistant depression. Because of the drug’s potential for abuse, the FDA has restricted its distribution.
There is a push to get the FDA to go further and clear the way for ketamine to be prescribed as an antidepressant.
Unlike other antidepressants, ketamine stimulates a different kind of neurotransmitter, said Dr. Muhamad Rifai, the president of the Lehigh Valley Psychiatric Society. Research so far has shown ketamine can aid people who are not helped by antidepressants, making them feel better in hours. However, the long-term effects are unknown and the benefits are short-term, requiring patients to get frequent injections, said Rifai.