Mt. Pleasant doctor using ecstasy to treat PTSD in veterans
By Dean Stephensdstephens@abcnews4.com
Mount Pleasant, SC (WCIV) - Five million people suffer from it every year. One in 13 will develop it in their lifetime. We're talking about post traumatic stress disorder.
More troubling for those that have it is that there is no known cure. But a Mount Pleasant doctor says a controversial therapy reduces the effects of PTSD at a greater rate than traditional treatments.
His therapy? A party drug called ecstasy.
Behind the walls of a small Mount Pleasant office, the walls of emotional paralysis cemented by trauma are slowly being torn down.
"There are things, events that happened in your life, you may not like these things but they happen. You are going to say I'm going to get them out of my life, but you're never going to get them out of your brain," said Ret. Maj. Ricky Smith.
Smith spent time in Kuwait and Iraq fighting the war against terrorism.
"You don't know you have a problem until you become aware of the problem," said Smith.
When Smith returned home, it didn't take him long to know there was a problem.
"I slept with a shotgun, two pistols besides me, two knives, I had motion detectors in the house. I was always on guard. It was really the threat," said Smith.
But now Smith, a decorated soldier, had a new tag. He was diagnosed with PTSD.
"To say you have PTSD, to sit here on camera, it took a lot. Most veterans won't stand up and say 'Hey I got it,'" said Smith.
Smith tried traditional therapies, but it wasn't until he met Dr. Michael Mithoefer, when things started to change.
As a psychiatrist, Mithoefer saw his fair share of lives wrecked by the disorder.
"We have seen people who were disabled not able to work, people who couldn't go out of the house shopping by them selves," said Dr. Mithoefer.
To get patients back on track, Mithoefer turned the page on traditional protocol.
"I've had a lot of negative questions over the last ten years. Skepticism is good -- we are talking about science," said Mithoefer.
In 2001, he received FDA approval to treat PTSD patients with MDMA, or ecstasy, the party drug. Mithoefer's skeptics were silenced when the FDA granted him approval for a second trial. It began in February of 2011.
"Our thinking is that MDMA allows people to revisit the trauma without being overwhelmed with fear but also be in connection with the emotion," said Mithoefer.
His first trial involved sexual assault victims. The current trial includes civil servants and veterans like Smith.
"I'm 100 percent different. Guns are in the attic, knives in the attic, there's no threat and I'm sitting here talking to you,"he said.
Mithoefer's hope is that after a third trial, his research will lead to the approval of MDMA clinical use.
For Smith, he hopes his story will help other vets come forward and find what he's found.
"You will never get rid of PTSD but you can get it in a controllable manner like I found. Every day I live with it and every day I'm getting better," said Smith.
Three sessions later, the walls are no longer closing in on Smith's life.
Mithoefer administers the drug in his office. The therapy session lasts eight hours. The patient spends the night in the office and is observed by a nurse. Mithoefer returns the next morning and talks with his patient before sending his patient home.
The three MDMA sessions are spread over three months. Twenty-four patients will eventually take part in the second phase trial.