Bad News for Prometa and Methamphetamine Addiction

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In 2007, Dr. Harold Urschel published a study showing that a three-drug therapy was effective for methamphetamine addiction. The treatment is licensed under the brand name Prometa, and although Dr. Urschel’s clinic sold the therapy, he denied any conflict of interest with the results he published. Now, an independent study has shown the program has no measurable benefit.

The three drugs used are hydroxizine, flumanzenil and gabapentin. This combination hasn’t been approved by the FDA for methamphetamine withdrawal, but because each of the drugs have other medical uses, doctors can prescribe them “off label.” The Prometa regimen has spawned many treatment clinics that use the protocol in combination with counseling and other care.

Branding of the treatment is disputed, but clinics that wish to participate need a physician licensed in the program according to their website. The website also mentions a protocol for alcohol and cocaine addiction. No mention is made of this latest study. It is often the case that research yields conflicting results, but the dramatic difference between the previous work and this study is cause for concern. The site touts the treatment as a “scientific breakthrough,” but there is also a disclaimer on the site: ” Hythiam® [the parent company and brand owner] does not provide medical advice or medical treatment, and makes no claims about the effectiveness and suitability of Prometa Treatments in general or for any individual patient.”

The controversy will likely continue. Everyone wants an effective treatment for meth addiction, but in science based medicine, it is not enough to make claims, they have to be proven. Should the results of this latest study hold up, it will be a black mark against both Hythiam and addiction treatment in general. Any treatment that is sold to the public (Prometa costs upwards of $10,000) has to have real benefit or it starts to look like the worst kind of fraud – taking advantage of those most vulnerable. For now, the scientific jury is still out.

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