Keep up ketamine trial, mother pleads

The mother of a woman with a major depressive illness has called on the Southern District Health Board to reconsider its plans to shut down its ketamine treatment trial.

In 2015 the SDHB began testing the controversial drug to treat depression and anxiety disorders. It is a tranquilliser and anaesthetic when used medically but which also can be abused recreationally.

In February the DHB announced it was ending the trial as efficacy rates for the treatment had been only about 20%.

Then SDHB mental health medical director Brad Strong said SDHB's results echoed international research in casting ``substantial doubt'' on using ketamine for patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Michelle Lomax - a member of the West Coast DHB - has a daughter who was on the SDHB ketamine programme.

Standard medications had done little for her daughter but ketamine had produced a dramatic improvement, she said.

``The people on the ketamine programme are people for whom nothing else has really worked - they are desperate, and living truly difficult lives.''

While a 20% efficacy rate might sound low, people on ketamine were the most difficult cases for whom nothing else had worked, Ms Lomax said.

``Now her only option is maintenance ECT, which seems dire for a young woman of 23.''

Ms Lomax told her daughter's story to the ministerial inquiry in to mental health earlier this month.

SDHB chief medical officer Nigel Millar said support was being offered to patients who had received, or who were now receiving, ketamine treatment.

``Those patients who are currently taking part in the trial are being contacted by their treating doctor to discuss this change, and to review their treatment plans,'' Dr Millar said.

``Their ketamine treatment will continue until such time as a further treatment plan can be agreed.

``No new patients are being accepted to commence ketamine.''

Dr Millar would not comment on individual people's situations, but said they should speak with their doctor concerning their treatment plan.

``We are committed to providing the best possible care and treatment for all patients and will be actively supporting them to facilitate their continued recovery towards full wellbeing.''

Dr Millar said the SDHB was now recruiting to replace Dr Strong, who left his role last month to return to his native United States.


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