A CURE for methamphetamine addiction will be trialled in Perth in a world-first.
The study, led by WA Health emergency medicine specialist Dr Amanda Stafford, will use the drug Baclofen, which was licensed in the 1970s as a muscle relaxant.
The treatment using the Baclofen pill, which costs as little as $1 a day, has since been found through overseas trials on humans and animals to act as an anti-craving agent for treating alcoholism and cocaine addiction.
Dr Stafford said doctors in Australia and Europe had told her of cases where Baclofen had also been effective in treating meth addiction by helping people to “stay on the straight and narrow”.
Having successfully treated dozens of alcoholic patients with the cheap prescription drug, Dr Stafford said she was hopeful it could revolutionise treatment for meth addiction which had turned some of the State’s hospital emergency departments into “meth city”.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that Baclofen in higher doses can be helpful for meth addiction,” Dr Stafford said.
Cravings for alcohol and cocaine were known to stop rapidly once the patient reached their individual dose requirement, which sometimes took as little as a week. She said this raised hopes rehabilitation may be unnecessary for many meth addicts.
But she warned that some patients would need longer time to reach an effective dose and others would still require rehab to rebuild a “normal life” because they had “spiralled down too far”.
“If you like meth then you’ll keep using it but for others, when the party’s over and they take stock of what they’re losing and they really want to get off meth, this (Baclofen) might be something that will help them succeed,” Dr Stafford said.
“For people who have been sliding downwards but still have a skerrick of normality, they may simply need a craving modification drug such as Baclofen which will allow them to rebuild the life they had.”
Dr Stafford said the small-scale trial, which had funding from WA Health and full ethical approval, would start in November with 18 meth-addicted patients who had already been selected. It would involve a team of physicians and researchers from various Perth medical facilities.
Dr Stafford said the Perth study was due to take a year, including about four months of patient research as well as MRI analysis. She hoped her study would be a catalyst for a wide scale clinical trial to help establish Baclofen and other similar drugs as a standard treatment for meth addiction.
The research builds on work by Daniel Fatovich, a professor of emergency medicine at Royal Perth Hospital and University of WA who is also a member of WA’s Meth Action Plan Taskforce.
Using MRIs to scan the brain of young meth users, Professor Fatovich discovered one in five young users had lesions where a small part of their brain had died. New figures collected by the professor show 5 per cent of admissions to RPH’s ED are meth-related.
Dr Stafford said the study would also “borrow” a technique used by US doctor Anna Rose Childress who studied the impact of Baclofen on the brains of cocaine addicts. In her trial, Dr Childress used MRI scanners to provide a “movie” of cocaine addicts’ brain activity during visual stimulation.
Dr Stafford said in that study, the MRI scan for patients receiving placebo showed the brain “lit up like a Christmas tree” when they viewed subliminal cocaine-related images which only appeared for a fraction of a second, not long enough for them to realise they had seen them.
But with patients treated with Baclofen, the brain response was substantially lessened.
Baclofen was licensed in the 1970s as a muscle relaxant to treat people with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and strokes.
Through animal and human trials conducted in France and the US, Baclofen is known to reduce cravings for alcohol and cocaine.
Baclofen produces a state of indifference towards alcohol and cocaine. This is obtained by progressively increasing the dose until the indifference appears.
The Perth study will look at how Baclofen alters brain function in a select group of methamphetamine users.
Dr Amanda Stafford warned that Baclofen is a prescription medication that should used under medical supervision because of risk of side effects if used improperly.