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Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV

Drug known in clubs as 'Special K' works to treat depression at Utah clinic

By Andrew Adams, | Posted - Aug 26th, 2017 @ 10:32am



UTAH COUNTY — A drug with hallucinogenic properties known on the club scene as “Special K” has found success fighting chronic depression at an increasing number of clinical settings across the country, including in Utah.

“There’s no drug that reduces depression as fast and as robustly as ketamine does,” said Dr. Thomas Draschil, a psychiatrist who now offers ketamine treatments at his Springville clinic, Noetic Psychiatry. “Almost all of the clinics were reporting 75 to 90 percent response rates. That number is so high, it’s difficult to believe.”

Draschil said Friday he had witnessed similar results in his patients with treatment-resistant depression who have received the injections — typically administered twice per week for three weeks.

Improvement, he said, can be observed in less than 24 hours after the first session, which lasts roughly 45 minutes and requires that patients be driven home by someone else.

“You have no suicidal ideations and there is not only not depression — you are able to engage in life in a way that is satisfying,” Draschil said. “Now, that’s a rapid shift right there!”

Draschil said the psychedelic experience itself varies widely from patient to patient, but when paired with the subsequent discussion of the experience, generally results in a starkly more optimistic outlook.

“People will start having experiences on ketamine or just after that have a lot of meaning to them,” Draschil said. “Ketamine kind of loosens the psyche. People tolerate more stress, so they will talk about and think about things they normally avoid.”

The treatment, which costs about $350 per injection at Draschil’s clinic and is not covered by insurance, isn’t without its skeptics, who have noted a lack of data while raising questions about the long-term effects.

Some doctors have expressed fears over the potential for depressed patients to seek out ketamine illicitly and abuse it away from the clinical setting.

Draschil acknowledged scientists have yet to identify exactly why ketamine, which is also used at higher doses as an anesthetic during surgeries, proves to be effective against chronic depression.

Still, he noted the immediate efficacy has been undeniable in many patients seen at his clinic.

One of those patients, Gina Cozzens of Spanish Fork, said Friday that monthly ketamine treatments had changed her life.

“I wouldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t go to the store without having a panic attack,” Cozzens said. “I didn’t want to look around my surroundings because I was scared for fear that I’d have a panic attack or an anxiety attack.”

Cozzens said she noticed an immediate difference.

“Just by the first treatment, I noticed I was actually getting up, cleaning, wanting to get out,” Cozzens said.

Cozzens said she no longer fears leaving her home.

“I’m walking around and I’m enjoying life and that’s all that matters—I don’t care what people think anymore,” Cozzens said. “I’m just glad I’m able to live it like everybody else.”

Andrew Adams is a multi-media journalist for KSL NewsRadio and KSL-TV. His work also regularly appears in the Deseret News. Email: aadams@ksl.com

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