Opioid commission leader suggests it use at least $42 million to get exotic psychedelic drug approved to treat opioid-use disorder
|Hubbard announced his plan as his boss, Attorney General
Daniel Cameron, sat behind him. (Photo by Melissa Patrick)
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
The head of the commission that manages the state’s opioid-settlement money said Wednesday that the panel will “explore the possibility” of committing “no less than $42 million” to developing a treatment of opioid-use disorder with the psychedelic drug ibogaine, which is not legal in the United States.
Gov. Andy Beshear questioned the idea and said it was announced without consulting his two appointees on the Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission, which has yet to approve it. The commission operates under Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the Republican nominee against Beshear in the fall election.
Bryan Hubbard, executive director and chairman of the commission, told reporters at the event, “It is our hope that we can achieve an approval within six years” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for ibogaine.
The commission’s news release about the idea did not mention any drugs, nor did Cameron in his opening remarks to a crowd of at least 60 who came to hear the announcement on the state Capitol lawn.
Representatives from several organizations were on hand to support the initiative, including the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, Reason for Hope, Heroic Hearts Project, Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
“I am so excited to support Kentucky in this innovative ibogaine research initiative; it’s second to none,” said retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Martin Steele, who is CEO of Reason for Hope and president of the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition. “The existing clinical research and the growing body of personal anecdotes suggest that ibogaine when used with careful medical screening, treatment protocols, and oversight, has incredible promise for treating veterans and all others struggling with opioid addiction.”
One was Bobby Laughlin, CEO of New Course Enterprises, a California investment firm, who told how he was able to stay off heroin and other opiates after going through inpatient and outpatient treatment with ibogaine under medical care in 2013.
Hubbard said he envisions the project to legalize ibogaine as a public-private partnership. Asked the basis of his $42 million estimate, he said it seemed to be a “reasonable sum” for a “breakthrough opportunity” that, if successful, would not only have a “profound” impact on Kentucky but the rest of the nation.
He said he will discuss the project with the commission at its June 12 meeting and ask it to set a schedule for how to proceed, including one or two public hearings. Then, he said the commission will work toward taking a vote, “perhaps in the fall,” to commit the funds.
“Work would begin to develop the necessary criteria for the announcement of a grant opportunity . . . for any clinical research team that would seek to come in here to develop ibogaine therapy as well as the best practices model for its application to opioid-use disorder,” he said.
The money would come from the $842 million the state is getting from settlements with drug manufacturers and distributors, half of which has been allocated to the state and the other half to cities and counties.
Hubbard said, “I want to emphasize that this is preliminary and we are going to explore that possibility. Given the expense – and it is a significant expense of developing any therapeutic to go through the FDA process – we want to make sure that the money we put up to be matched by clinical research teams will be an adequate sum to get us across the finish line.”
There is no question that Kentucky, and the nation, need to find more effective ways to treat opioid addiction.
“Existing addiction treatment models have modest success rates,” the news release noted. “Some existing treatments are also subject to misuse. Prevailing opioid-use-disorder treatment models carry an average cost of $139,200 per person per recovery attempt.” The release said that from 2017 to May 26, drug companies billed Kentucky Medicaid $1.02 billion for almost 102 million doses of suboxone, “one of the most common and presently effective medications for treating opioid-use disorder.”
Cameron said that while overdose deaths dropped 5% in Kentucky in 2022, the bad news is that 2,127 Kentuckians overdosed last year and the number of overdose deaths in the state has risen 60% since 2019 – with 7,665 Kentuckians dying from overdoses in that time, and about 90% of them caused by opioids.
Among those attending the event was Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and a former Democratic attorney general and congressman. He applauded the effort, saying the foundation is hopeful for the health benefits this new initiative could bring to Kentucky.
“We support innovative and data-driven methods to solve health problems,” Chandler said in a news release. “This move to explore new treatments to reverse the chemical effects of opioid addiction, including opioid withdrawal, could be the key to unlocking successful recovery and better long-term health for many Kentuckians.”
“I will take responsibility as chairman for the commission for having conducted individual research in my capacity as chairman for anything and everything that we could possibly discover that could potentially be a breakthrough therapeutic for treatment of opioid disorder,” he said. ” I undertook that effort because the results we are getting with our existing infrastructure are unacceptably mediocre.”