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; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Marysville
1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Firefighters respond to a report of a smoke alarm going off in the 100 block of West Main Street in Monroe on Monday morning. Fire officials confirmed the fire was coming from living quarters above Good Brewing Co. (Provided by Snohomish County Regional Fire and Rescue).
Fire damages apartment above Monroe brewery

Good Brewing Co. on West Main Street was listed as permanently closed Monday.

Tom Ceurvorst picks up his food order at Big Chicken on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free ice cream Wednesday for Shaq’s birthday at Big Chicken in Mukilteo

Sign a card for the NBA Hall of Famer and restaurant founder. Shaquille O’Neal turns 52 on March 6.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man consumed cannabis, beer before crash into trooper

Trooper Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect Raul Benitez Santana was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.