Saturday, January 12, 2008
Vote of No Confidence For Prometa
Addiction drug loses major funding.
It is composed of three common and inexpensive drugs used for other purposes. It has never been subjected to clinical double blind testing. It costs thousands of dollars for the full treatment package, and the company that markets it says it cures about 80 percent of the drug addicts who use it.
If that description sounds familiar—if it seems to give off a faint whiff of blue-green algae and multi-level marketing—such concerns have not stunted the promotion and acceptance of the anti-addiction drug Prometa. But MSNBC reported last week that Prometa, the drug “cocktail” designed to combat addiction to cocaine and methamphetamine, was dealt a severe blow when accountants in Pierce County, Washington froze the funding for an $800,000 pilot program, citing irregularities in testing.
The treatment involves intravenous infusions of Flumazinil, a reversal agent for benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin. The second drug, hydroxyzine, is an antihistamine, and the third, sold as Neurontin, as an anti-seizure medication frequently used “off prescription” as a treatment for a number of ailments, including alcoholism and hearing loss.
The treatment does not require approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because all three ingredients are already in common use in clinics and hospitals. The Prometa Regimen marketed by Hythium involves formulating the protocol and contracting with doctors to deliver the medications.
To date, there is no published clinical data to support treatment for addiction with these three drugs in proprietary combination.
Marketed heavily by anecdote and personal testimonials, the Prometa marketing campaign included ads in 2006 featuring the late comedian Chris Farley, who died of a drug overdose.
Hythiam, the company that markets Prometa, has touted the treatment with claims of success rates as high as 98 per cent, but Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney found the results of the county audit “alarming,” according to MSNBC. “It’s clear to me that we are much more involved in a marketing scheme…”
Hythiam Executive Vice President Richard Anderson disagreed. “The people who are using it,” he said, “the doctors, patients, administrators, and drug court judges—are seeing an impact with it, so I think the treatment will carry it at the end of the day.”
The dispute centers on the manner in which dropouts were counted in surveys done by Hythiam’s non-profit arm, the Pierce County Alliance. The Alliance had been responsible for administering the Prometa program in Pierce County drug courts. According to county auditors, dropouts and no-shows (patients who fail to show up for drug testing) were not included in the Alliance’s final report on 35 patients over a 14-month period. In Pierce and neighboring counties of Washington, drug courts record no-shows as equivalent to positive drug tests. This was not how the alliance scored it, although alliance spokespeople have insisted that county officials have misunderstood the mechanics of the study.
An investigation by the Tacoma News Tribune threw more cold water on the Prometa numbers. “According to the multiple public statements by the alliance,” wrote Sean Robinson, 86 percent of the Prometa clients ‘remained drug-free’ at the end of the 14-month program. According to county auditors, the number was 50 percent.”
Furthermore, the alliance “defined success in the Prometa program as 60 or more days of clean drug tests…. In Pierce County, drug-court clients must show 90 days of clean drug tests… In Snohomish and Thurston counties, drug-court clients must show six months.”
Investors in Hythiam, which is publicly traded, were counting on the Pierce program after similar programs in Fulton County, Georgia, and in Idaho failed to get off the ground. Things only got worse when the Tacoma News Tribune revealed that several county officials who had gotten behind the program also owned Hythiam stock.
Small rural communities that have felt the impact of meth sales and production in their communities are looking for help, and represent a significant market for an anti-addiction medication. However, in the case of Prometa, “The marketing is way ahead of the science,” claimed Lori Karan of the Drug Dependence Research Laboratory at the University of California-San Francisco.
Double-blind studies of Prometa are underway at the University of California-Los Angeles and at the University of South Carolina.