Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

‘It’d be a miracle’: Providence tests new treatment for meth addiction

Monoclonal antibodies could lead to the first drug designed to fight meth addiction. Everett was chosen due to its high meth use.

EVERETT — Samuel Hirst’s detox center treats patients addicted to opioids. But the vast majority are also hooked on meth.

Hirst can rely on meds specifically formulated to help folks stay off fentanyl, heroin or oxycodone. As for meth?

“There’s no real standard treatment,” Hirst said.

In recent years, meth has consistently driven more than a third of Snohomish County’s overdose deaths. There’s no FDA-approved drug, though, designed to treat meth addiction.

A doctor down the road from Hirst wants to change that.

Providence’s Dr. Thomas Robey is enrolling emergency department patients in a trial-run for new monoclonal antibodies. Just four emergency departments nationwide are testing the new injectable treatment — one Robey said could be a game-changer for locals hooked on meth.

Monoclonal antibodies gained attention this year as a treatment for COVID-19. The molecules are also used for cancer patients, as they target unwanted cells or toxins in the body.

“It’s like an antidote,” Robey told The Daily Herald. “It’s a similar technology to what we use to treat snake bites.”

The drug binds tight to amphetamines in the bloodstream, pulling them away from the central nervous system and allowing the body to excrete them.

Normally, when patients come into the ER in a meth-induced psychosis, Robey’s team can administer sedatives and simply wait for agitation, paranoia and hallucinations to wear off. That can take hours. After that, some doctors prescribe antianxiety medications or antidepressants to help patients try to stay off the drug.

These monoclonal antibodies work differently. Within 30 minutes, enough meth can be removed from the brain that patients are no longer high.

“And that’s really phenomenal,” Robey said. “Because a lot of dangerous activity that individuals engage in when they’re high on meth has to do with paranoia and agitation.”

The “real kicker,” as Robey puts it, is how long-acting the drug is. With a half-life of 19 days, it can act in the body for more than a month. That means patients are blocked from getting high — or as high as they normally would — if they relapse during that time. That month or so could be enough time to help his patients, who are often unhoused, to get an ID, stable housing or other necessary healthcare.

The trial is small. Only 40 patients will be enrolled nationwide. So far, about 10 have been enrolled at Providence. Robey said the results have already been promising. Only one patient has failed to follow up with doctors after receiving the drug.

“I think part of it has to do with the fact that they’re able to get their lives together,” Robey said. “We have so many people in the study who’ve been chronically unhoused who have housing by the time they get to their 30-day followup. It’s unbelievable.”

The long-acting monoclonal antibodies sound promising to Hirst.

“Meth is so difficult for people to put down. Especially with the amount that’s out there right now,” he said. “It’d be a miracle if there’s some way to … keep them sober at least for a couple weeks.”

The research is slow-going, though.

Dr. W. Brooks Gentry is overseeing the national trial. From his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, he recalled the first grant he received to look into this meth treatment. That was back in the 1990s. About $65 million has been poured into the research, but it has come in small, piecemeal grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

“It’s not viewed by entrepreneurial types as something that could be a big money-maker. So they don’t invest,” he said. Plus, “there’s still a bias, I believe, that this is a social ill and not a medical problem.”

Back in the ’90s, Gentry’s colleague was developing monoclonal antibodies targeting PCP, a drug known as “angel dust.”

“What we realized at that point was that Arkansas was No. 1 in the country for the number of methamphetamine labs per capita,” Gentry said. “This was still at the time when local production was a thing.”

So the team shifted their focus to meth. Since then, the meth on the streets has changed. Over the decades, supply has increased, prices dropped and the chemical makeup of the drug has gotten stronger and more dangerous.

When the antibodies were finally ready for human trials, Gentry’s team wanted to use ERs in places with high concentrations of meth use. They used heat maps to figure out where the drug was most prevalent.

“Y’all were unfortunately toward the top of the list,” Gentry said. “It’s heartbreaking for your community that you have such a problem.”

Even so, Robey said he’s thrilled his emergency department is part of the process.

“Even though we’re the safety net,” he said, “patients who are addicted to drugs still often fall through that.”

According to Gentry, federal approval of the drug could take five to six years, if everything goes to plan. He hopes the prospect of a new treatment can give hope to those hooked on meth.

“They tend to give up. Because there’s nothing (to treat meth addiction), so why would I even try?” Gentry said. “And that’s discouraging to hear. If we could give them some hope, that would be a big deal.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449;; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - Former President Donald J. Trump watches the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Lawyer: Trump indicted, 1st ex-president charged with crime

Former president Donald Trump has been indicted on charges in New York regarding payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.

Jeanette Westover poses for a photo at her home in Snohomish, Washington on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Tenant: Housing Hope ignored meth contamination at Snohomish apartment

Jeanette Westover says meth contamination far exceeding state limits gave her seizures and kidney infections.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police investigating cause of fatal 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

The man, 61, crossed the center line in Snohomish on Monday and crashed into the truck, the sheriff’s office said.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead, 1 in hospital after 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

A concrete pumping truck and two sedans crashed Monday afternoon, closing the highway near Bickford Avenue.

Moses Malachi Brewer appears in court for sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to 18 years for 2019 shooting in Everett

Moses Brewer, 23, shot four people in an Everett apartment, which left one victim paralyzed on his right side.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Health care spending continues to outpace inflation, driven by prices

Can state efforts curb 6.7% growth per year in overall health care spending?

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A buffet of budgets, a bunch of whales and a request for your miles

It’s Day 78. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

Erinn Dearth and Dan Beckmann will perform 7 p.m. at The Historic Everett Theater, on Friday, April 14, 2023. Their "Letters From Home" show features music from the soundtracks of WWII, Vietnam and more. (Photo provided)
USO-style variety show to make stop at Historic Everett Theatre

The cast of “Letters from Home” hopes to reach veterans, active military members and their families.

Jack Yoke, 5, runs through the Roozengaarde tulip fields on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 in Mount Vernon, Wash. This is the final week to head out to Mount Vernon to enjoy the of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival which ends on May 2nd.(Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tulip Festival brings spectacular traffic jams, blooms to Skagit Valley

Thousands will visit the annual flower fest that kicks off Saturday and runs through April. Here are some tips.

Most Read