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Drug addicts find hope

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

A drug treatment program called Prometa is considered experimental by some accounts and miraculous by others.

Federal Way City Council member Jack Dovey has suggested the city allocate $20,000 through its mid-biennium budget amendment process for a 2008 Prometa pilot program in Federal Way.

“I think it would be life-changing for our citizens,” Dovey said.

While the council agrees a drug treatment program would be beneficial to the city’s residents, mixed feelings toward Prometa were expressed at a budget meeting Nov. 13.

Prometa, which is claimed to rid addicts of their alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine addictions, has been hailed by some as a miracle drug treatment program.

The treatment protocol is a combination of three medications — Flumazenil, Hydroxyzine and Gabapentin — that have been independently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, said Pierce County Alliance Deputy Director James Boyles. They were each designed to for a specific use, but in a carefully administered combination can reverse the damage alcohol, cocaine and methamphetimine have caused to an addict’s brain receptors, Boyles said.

“The drugs are being used in what is called off-label use,” Boyles said.

Prometa targets the area of the brain that produces cravings for drugs, he said. It leaves addicts free of cravings, withdrawals and anxiety, according to the Web site www.prometainfo.com, which is operated by the company marketing the treatment, Hythiam Inc.

Too good to be true?

Prometa sounds too good to be true, said Auburn resident and recovering alcohol and cocaine addict Brian, who preferred his last name remain anonymous. Someone who is an addict, or a recovering addict, will always fight the disease and the urge to get high, Brian said after a Narcotics Anonymous meeting Nov. 14.

The 12-step program is the only drug treatment that works, he said.

“You never conquer this disease,” Brian said.

But Federal Way resident David Smart says there is a way for an addict to get rid of the compulsion to use drugs. Smart was a meth addict for nearly 22 years and has attempted to abandoned his addition approximately 25 times. He has tried in-patient, out-patient, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Pierce County Drug Court and shock treatments. He completed the 12-step program four times, he said.

“I worked them with a heartfelt desire to stop,” Smart said.

Nothing worked. Smart would steal from his family, commit crimes to support his addiction and live in his vehicle when he was on a meth binge, he said. He was ashamed and wanted to be clean, but he knew, in the back of his head, that he would always return to meth.

“When you’re on meth, in the meth cloud, everything seems impossible,” Smart said.

About two years ago, Smart heard of Prometa and contacted Enddependence.com. A year later, Enddependence.com agreed to fund Smart’s recovery.

“I thought it was too good to be true, but I had to do it to say I tried it,” Smart said.

Seven months ago, Smart began his Prometa treatment with Pierce County Alliance, a Tacoma-based chemical dependancy treatment center. The treatment for cocaine and meth begins with three consecutive IV infusions of Flumazenil, followed by 21 to 28 days of daily oral doses of Gabapentin, then finished with two more IV infusions of Hydroxyzine, Boyles said.

The same day Smart began his treatment, he had planned to receive his first Prometa infusion, then get high on meth before returning home, he said.

He never followed through on those plans to get high. Since his first Prometa infusion, he has not had the urge to do meth, Smart said.

“It takes away the guy in the back of your head that says go get high,” Smart said.

Worth the risk

Prometa appears to be working for Smart, but it is still experimental and its long-term affects and results are not known.

Some studies have been completed on the treatment, but others are still in operation, Boyles said. Prometa is considered experimental by some accounts and Pierce County Alliance recommends it be followed up with psychosocial treatments, such as support groups or meetings, Boyles said.

“This medical treatment isn’t the answer to everything,” Boyles said.

It does not work for everyone and a change of lifestyle and complete willingness to recover is required, Smart said.

If the City Council approves a pilot program for the treatment, it would assist eight to 10 residents in kicking their alcohol, cocaine or meth habits. However, those receiving Prometa would need to sign a lengthy release waiver with the city because of the limited amounts of research completed thus far, Assistant City Manager Iwen Wang said.

“It seems to me (Prometa) is worth the risk,” Dovey said.

City Council member Dean McColgan is hesitant to support a procedure without a record of success, he said. Much of the positive feedback surrounding Prometa has been anecdotal, McColgan said.

“It’s experimental and it’s not proven to be a foolproof treatment program,” he said.

Though McColgan can see the positive affects the treatment could have on drug addicts and the public, he feels organizations with the experience and scientific research to treat chemical dependencies may be able to better offer drug treatment programs, rather than the city, he said.

McColgan prefers the city research Prometa more before making any final decisions on the matter. Not enough information has been provided to allow an informed decision to be made, he said.

Assistant City Manager Cary Roe suggested Tuesday that the council put a proviso on the $20,000. This would earmark the money for the drug treatment pilot program, but allow the council time to further investigate Prometa.

“It’s not like we are just spending this money and (providing Prometa) tomorrow,” Dovey said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

The city council may choose to further amend the Prometa pilot program at its next mid-biennium budget amendment meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S. The meeting is open to the public.

To read more about Pierce County’s current debate on whether it should continue to offer Prometa through the Pierce County Alliance, visit the Tacoma News Tribune Web site.

Check it out

David Smart’s story will be featured on the TV show “60 minutes” in the coming weeks; time and date to be announced.

To learn more about Prometa, visit www.prometainfo.com, a site managed by Hythiam Inc.

To watch a video of David Smart receiving his first Prometa transfusion, visit www.myspace.com/prometaworks. To view a message board discussion about Prometa, visit www.treatmentpathways.com.

To attend a People of Prometa discussion group, contact David Smart via e-mail at infoaboutprometa@tmo.blackberry.net. Meetings occur at 6 p.m. every Friday in Smart’s home.

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The Nov. 17 Mirror article titled “Drug addicts find hope” said that the drug treatment program called Prometa consists of three medications, Flumazenil, Gabapentin and Hydroxyzine, the first and last which were administered via IV into a patient.

In fact, only Flumazenil is administered in this way. A cocaine or methamphetamine addict will receive five infusions of this drug, not three. Hydroxyzine is taken orally and is used to reduce a person’s anxiety before an infusion takes place.

The medication Gabapentin is taken for about 34 days, not 21 to 28, as reported in the article.

Also, the Pierce County Alliance Deputy Director is named James Boyle, not Boyles.

Lastly, Federal Way resident David Smart contacted Enddependence.org, not Enddependence.com, to receive funding for his Prometa treatments.

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