Ketamine – an anesthetic of the Korean War and a party drug of the 80s – is now an FDA approved treatment for depression, the agency said last week.
The nasal spray form of the psychotropic drug will be available to patients this week in select and approved DEA clinics. Some research has shown that the drug, which produces a feeling of tranquility out of the body, can reduce the severity of depression when it is associated with another antidepressant.
Dr. Steven Levine, a psychiatrist from New Jersey, has been administering intravenous ketamine at his Actify Neurotherapies clinic since 2011. The number of patients who have requested the new nasal spray is "already three-digit" mail.
But the new spray, called Esketamine, is not suitable for everyone. Psychiatrists can only prescribe this treatment to patients who have tried unsuccessfully two other antidepressants. If a patient has a history of addiction, Levine says he and the other doctors would like to make sure they have had a period of sobriety first.
Then there is the potential cost: as it is not yet widely covered by insurance, the nasal spray can cost up to $ 900 per session.
It is also less convenient than your standard antidepressant: esketamine can only be taken under medical supervision and the patient has to wait two hours in the doctor's office. Levine says that it will help prevent the drug from abusing it.
Although approval is a sign of hope for people with depression, questions remain about side effects.
"It's a very new treatment," says Dr. Muaid Ithman of the University of Missouri Health Care. "We must be careful."