Breaking News
More () »

New trial will test treatment for meth addiction

An addiction psychiatrist at CU School of Medicine will study deep brain stimulation as a possible treatment option for methamphetamine use disorder.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As overdose deaths continue to climb both in Colorado and across the country, many Coloradans are dying from a dangerous combination of drugs. 

9NEWS spoke with a doctor about the trend behind mixing methamphetamine with fentanyl, and a new trial looking at treatment solutions for addiction.

Dr. Joe Sakai is an addiction psychiatrist who teaches in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine Anschutz Medical Campus. He also works with patients with substance abuse disorders, including meth. He will be one of the principal investigators during an upcoming trial for a potential treatment for meth addiction.

What trends are you seeing among patients addicted to meth?

Dr. Sakai:

“Methamphetamine use disorder is quite common, quite a common reason people come into treatment.”

"Nationwide, there’s been a growing number of folks using meth, a growing number of folks then becoming addicted to meth, and then there’s been a horrific increase in number of people overdosing. Overdose deaths implicating methamphetamines have tripled between 2015 and 2019.”

According to data from the state, 749 people died of an overdose involving meth last year. At least 321 have overdosed and died from the drug so far this year, but that number could be higher due to a lag in data. A little less than half those deaths involved fentanyl, too.

What trends are you seeing with people combining meth and fentanyl?

Dr. Sakai:

“The main worry is that folks that produce meth adulterate it, they add things to it - more bang for the buck, more reinforcing, more addicting. And one cheap and very powerful thing to add is fentanyl.”

“There are also folks who combine the two intentionally, that does happen as well. Mainly that approach is used to try to mitigate the negative effects of one drug versus the other.”

Dr. Sakai said there are no FDA-approved medications to treat methamphetamine use disorder. He is part of a team (one of the principal investigators) leading an upcoming trial testing another type of treatment.

Tell us about the upcoming study

“[The strategy is] to use an approach used routinely in medication-resistant Parkinson’s, called deep brain stimulation.”

“We know much about biology of addiction, and to look at the sort of central player [in the brain] and see if we can alter what goes on there in a way that helps people not crave, and not have a drive to use [meth] in the same way.”

“This has been done outside the U.S. in several case series with quite amazing results. There’s also a trial in West Virginia looking at opioids. But this would be the first U.S. trial looking at methamphetamine use disorder.”

“The hope is that we can make an impact that can help to really alter the course for folks.”

The trial will start with a small group of five, and based on the initial results could expand to include 20 people.

Sakai will begin recruiting participants soon. Anyone interested in learning more can contact Sakai’s team at 303-724-5400 or Cona.lab@cuanschutz.edu.

RELATED: 179 pounds of methamphetamines and other drugs seized in Denver, Aurora

RELATED: Families keep adding to map for loved ones lost to opioids and addiction


Before You Leave, Check This Out