Taking Control Over Pain

Christi M. vividly remembers the day her son, Daniel, had an infusion of the medication ketamine at a clinic in Plano. Several years earlier, Daniel was in a traumatic and devastating car accident where he nearly lost his life and his leg was almost amputated. The accident left him with the lasting effects of a brain injury, widespread nerve pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. For years afterward, he could not drive a car without medication to combat anxiety. He had been in all sorts of therapy for insomnia, depression and anxiety and nothing worked. Yet, after just one treatment of a ketamine infusion, many of his symptoms were alleviated, if not gone entirely. “When he came out of the office after his first treatment, his face was shining and he was smiling,” Christi shares. “There were tears in his eyes and he told me it felt like he had months of burdens taken off him in one hour. It was like the son I knew before the accident was back.”

Since his very first treatment with ketamine, Daniel has continued to improve. After six treatments, he is planning on attending school again and Christi says his nerve pain, a problem that plagued him for years, is completely gone.

What is ketamine and is it a miracle drug? According to some patients and medical professionals, it just might be. Although not FDA-approved for treating pain and depression, it is currently being used by medical professionals “off-label” and having some astounding results. 

Ketamine is not new to the world of medicine. It is listed as one of the Top 10 Essential Drugs by the World Health Organization. It was developed in 1962 by pharmaceutical scientist Calvin Stevens at Parke-Davis, America’s oldest and largest drug maker, now a subsidiary of Pfizer. It was approved for human use in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and used as surgical anesthesia to help injured soldiers. Because it is fast-acting, soldiers could administer it to each other and, therefore, it was considered very valuable on the battlefield. For the next few decades, ketamine would continue to be used in hospitals as a general anesthetic during surgeries. It has been used for veterinary purposes and, more recently, to treat patients with PTSD and neuropathic pain, yet the long-term effects of ketamine are not totally known. 

With its reputation as a party drug, for many people, the mention of the word “ketamine” has a negative connotation. Young adults and college students have used and some become addicted to ketamine in its street form, known as “Special K” or “Vitamin K.” It gained popularity in the club scene due to its dreamlike, dissociative effects and its ability to cause hallucinations. Abuse of the drug, which can be snorted, injected or taken as a pill, can be fatal. When used in an uncontrolled environment, it causes abnormal heart rhythms, high or low blood pressure and respiratory failure. 

Jerron C. Hill, MD founded the Ketamine Health & Wellness Center of Texas in March 2016. Since then, he has treated more than 50 patients and performed nearly 200 ketamine infusions. Dr. Hill is a board-certified anesthesiologist and has been practicing medicine for more than 25 years. He says he researched ketamine and its potential for treating anxiety, depression and pain for more than a year after reading an article in Anesthesiology News, a trade magazine for medical professionals. “After I read the article, I knew there was a need in this area,” he says. When discussing the abuse of ketamine, Dr. Hill says medical science, to date, has not caught up to what is happening in a clinical setting. “Ketamine is very safe when you use it for the right reason. If you are a drug seeker and use it for the wrong reason, you can become addicted to it.”

Dr. Hill says ketamine works in the brain and in the spinal column, essentially re-wiring parts of the brain. “It helps repair the parts of the brain that have died and withered away due to chronic stress. Ketamine helps re-grow the parts of the brain,” he says. “I can tell you that the results are varied, but very remarkable.” 

According to Dr. Hill, 70 percent of patients resistant to depression medication respond to ketamine. “It can relieve suicidal depression in hours, not weeks, like other medications,” he says. “We typically do six stabilization treatments over a two-week period. Most of the patients I have treated have not had to come back. Patients can come back for booster infusion. Some patients may require more.”

Christi says she drove Daniel to the clinic from Joshua, more than an hour away, for his treatments. She says she had complete confidence in Dr. Hill and did her research about ketamine before Daniel’s treatment started. She says, “Ketamine has been used a long time and it is not a new drug. After I read about it and talked with Dr. Hill, I was not concerned at all.” 

Treatments can be expensive — an estimated $400-$800 per infusion. Insurance does not cover ketamine therapy, so patients bear the full cost. While ketamine itself is a relatively inexpensive drug, the amount used for a typical infusion is around $10. It is the ancillary costs of establishing the IV drip, vitals monitoring, etc., that drive the cost. For Christi and Daniel, the cost did not deter them. “It is worth every cent. You have your life back almost immediately.”

Bonnie W. lives in McKinney and is also one of Dr. Hill’s patients. Bonnie says she suffered from daily migraines that were so painful and debilitating, she could no longer work. “I have had migraine headaches since I was in high school. In the last five years, they have become overwhelming. I was missing so much work. I had to quit the job I had for 14 years. Every day, by 2 p.m., I was on the couch with pain.”

Bonnie says she met with Dr. Hill and he told her she would be a good candidate for an infusion. “All these doctors say they have the perfect medication, and within two or three weeks your pain will be gone, but nothing worked. I was afraid ketamine would be just like that.” Bonnie says she knew ketamine was different after her first treatment. “I went home that night and I had no pain. And I have had no side effects since starting treatments.” 

For Bonnie, ketamine has been a life-changing experience. She says she is now back to work and, although she still gets headaches, the pain is manageable. “When you are where I was and you are looking for another way out, you will do just about anything,” she says. “It changed my life. If you are at the end of your rope, look into it.”

Lisa Dawson is a full-time working mom of three, a freelance writer and a Frisco resident.