Monday, December 10, 2007

Hythiam's Prometa Under Scrutiny

CHICAGO | A costly drug cocktail touted as the first pharmacological treatment for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction is at the center of a raging national debate.

The treatment, called Prometa, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an addiction therapy, nor has it undergone extensive scientific testing. But officials at Los Angeles-based Hythiam Inc., the company that sells the treatment protocol, say it can work miracles for people struggling to break their addiction.

As many as 3,000 people have tried Prometa, up from about 1,000 a year ago, a Hythiam spokesman said.

More than 70 physicians nationwide have been licensed by the company to treat patients. Hythiam promotes Prometa as a 30-day outpatient treatment for addiction to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and meth, also known as crystal meth.

Hythiam officials said the company’s attention-grabbing marketing shouldn’t be confused with its treatment.

“People are dying (from drug abuse), and this (treatment) seems to be making a dramatic difference,” said Matthew Torrington, medical director of the Prometa Center in Santa Monica, Calif., one of four such treatment centers.

Jim Pickett, chairman of the Chicago Crystal Meth Task Force, said Hythiam is pushing an untested treatment on people at their lowest point.

“They are preying on vulnerable people,” Pickett said. “People in the throes of crystal meth addiction — and their families — are extremely vulnerable, and they are taking advantage of it.”

The drug cocktail is being used “off label,” meaning that the medications have been approved by the FDA to treat other disorders, but not addiction.

Hythiam doesn’t own or manufacture the drugs but says it owns the treatment protocol.


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