A drug commonly known as Special K and sometimes used as an anesthesia in operating rooms has been helping veterans quit opiates cold turkey.
"These patients have had a long journey with pain and opiates, and they've often given up on life," said Dr. Randall Malchow, an anesthesiologist at the Murfreesboro VA campus. "There's anxiety and depression commingled in with unemployment, loss of productivity, and obesity. So to have an impact that is life-changing is tremendous."
Dr. Malchow said ketamine has the ability to reset our pain receptors in a way that allows patients to ditch traditional pain medications while still managing chronic symptoms.
Ending addiction while still treating pain may sound like a big promise, but Dr. Malchow said so far, results have proven promising.
About 50 veterans have completed his program, which consists of IV infusions of ketamine. Typically, four IVs administered over four days is enough to detox patients from opiates and manage their pain for a year or more.
"I believe, at least in my career, this could be a game changer," Dr. Malchow said.
The Murfreesboro VA hospital is the first in the country to offer the program. There's currently a waitlist to receive ketamine treatment.