Page 133

USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

133

HEALTH & HEALING substance use disorders, is associated with two prescription antidepressants — Zoloft suicide. and Paxil — are the only two medications With veterans ages 18-24 taking their approved by the FDA to treat PTSD. lives at four times the rate of their nonAlthough standard treatments — psychoveteran peers, alternative therapies need to therapy or medication or both — are efbe explored, said McCourry. fective for many patients with PTSD, there Following the three remain several barriers to sessions, McCourry says care, including difficulhe is not completely ties in getting timely symptom-free but is appointments at the VA, “(After MDMA now equipped to handle low treatment adherence flare-ups of anxiety or rates and, in the case treatment) I noanger. He is repairing of the FDA-approved ticed an immediate relationships bruised by medications, low efficacy more than a decade of rates. (One study found improvement in uncontrolled PTSD, he that while antidepresmy sleep. I hadn’t said, though he has no sants are associated with desire to take MDMA a response rate of 60 slept straight recreationally. “(The percent in PTSD patients, through the night therapy) is no party,” he only 20 to 30 percent of said. “It’s really difficult, those achieved complete for nearly nine but worth it.” remission.) According to MAPS, The FDA reserves the years.” the next phase of the “breakthrough therapy” — Nigel McCourry research is expected designation for medicato start in spring 2018 tions that “demonstrate after more therapists are substantial improvement trained to facilitate the over existing therapies” counseling. Doblin, who has been raising and treat a serious or life-threatening funds to support MDMA research since disease or condition. 1986, called the recent developments and PTSD is a debilitating condition and for planned trial “remarkable.” some veterans, it’s life-threatening. Several “What the FDA has really demonstrated studies have noted that PTSD, either alone is that it is choosing science over politics,” or when diagnosed alongside other mental Doblin said. health conditions, including depression and

MULTIDISCIPLINARY ASSOCIATION FOR PSYCHEDELIC STUDIES (MAPS)/CALEB HELLERMAN

Dr. Michael Mithoefer and his wife, Ann, a nurse, conduct MDMA psychotherapy with numerous patients who have PTSD and said the results are “extremely promising.”

GETTY IMAGES

HIGH HOPES

Advocates continue to push for medical marijuana as treatment for PTSD MDMA is not the only illicit drug that the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS) is supporting as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The group is sponsoring a $2.1 million study in Arizona to determine whether marijuana can help manage the symptoms of PTSD. But the research, conducted at the Scottsdale Research Institute by Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist, has faced a number of problems: it took five years for it to receive federal approval; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore withdrew its participation, citing differences in research goals; and it is struggling to secure the required 76 veterans to participate. As of October, it had enrolled only 28 veterans. MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin said his group has been pushing for the marijuana research to provide veterans more options. Since 2007, the group Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access has lobbied for the broadening of medical marijuana laws to help veterans with a variety of illnesses, including PTSD. And last year, the American Legion, which represents 2.4 million members, called on Congress to support research on marijuana’s use for treating PTSD. Doblin maintains that marijuana is a “palliative treatment” and not a cure, but says his group still supports the research. “It may help veterans manage their condition. But it’s like alcohol — it mainly just masks the problem.” Sisley remains committed to determining whether marijuana helps ease PTSD symptoms for combat veterans, many of whom have suffered since the Vietnam War. She was instrumental in swaying the American Legion to support research and has pushed the VA to help find participants. “I grind every day to make sure this study is successful,” Sisley told the Arizona Republic. “I want people to understand I am not an activist. I am a scientist. The only thing I care about is collecting objective data and getting that data in the public domain.” — Patricia Kime

Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017