Drug Used To Treat ADHD Touted As A Possible Treatment For Ice Addiction

What nicotine patches are to smokers, this new pill may be to ice addicts.

In a world-first trial, the drug used to treat ADHD will be given to ice addicts in an attempt to ween them off the disastrous drug in the hopes of it becoming the first medication to successfully treat severe ice dependency.

Researchers at St Vincent's hospital are recruiting 180 methamphetamine users to test whether lysine dexamphetamine can be used as a substitute to ice in a way that is similar to how nicotine replacement therapy assists smokers.

As St Vincent's Clinical Director of drug and alcohol services Dr. Nadine Ezard explains, the once-a-day medication will hopefully reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with ice addiction, therefore offering a new treatment option for heavy users.

“At the moment we have treatments that are effective for methamphetamine dependency, but they're all counselling based, so there is no medication that has been proven to work," Dr. Ezard said.

"We’re hoping that this might be something else that we can offer for people.”

Ice, a type of methamphetamine, triggers a rapid release of dopamine in the brain, resulting in a euphoric rush and increased alertness.

The 2016 National Drug Household Survey found that 1.3 million Australians over the age of 14 had ever used methamphetamine, over half of which reported using ice. Image: Getty

While its effects last anywhere between four and 12 hours, the symptoms associated with coming down from methamphetamine leave the user feeling the opposite of what they experienced while high. This means poor concentration, exhaustion, irritability and depression that can last for several days.

Users who are severely dependent on ice will experience withdrawal symptoms including headaches, aggression, restlessness or vomiting for several days or even many weeks.

The stimulant pill, known as Lidsexamfetamine, closely mimics the effects of ice and will help control cravings and stop withdrawal symptoms without giving the rush associated with ice use.

During the 12-week trial, half of the 180 participants will be given a significantly higher dose of the drug than what ADHD patients receive, while the other half will receive a placebo. Both groups will also receive the traditional treatment of counselling.

At the end of the trial period, researchers will determine if the participants who received the medication have shown a larger decrease in their ice dependency than those who received the placebo.

"It's a once a day oral medication, so much like nicotine replacement and smoking we don't expect people to stay on it for life either," Dr. Ezard said.

"It's just a moment for people to transition from heavy use to getting their lives back into control."

But experts say the stigma associated with ice addiction is keeping some users from seeking treatment at all, sometimes fighting the battle alone for up to ten years.

"It can be described as an absolute emotional rollercoaster trying to come off a drug like ice," Ted Noffs Foundation clinical services manager Kieran Palmer said.

"For people to safely put their hand up and say 'yes, I need help' without all that fear that by doing that they're basically slapping them-self with the label of a junkie, a monster, a demon, a zombie."

Dr. Ezard hopes the results of the trial will lead to earlier intervention with addicts across the country, as the impacts of ice use often go beyond the user and are felt by their families and communities.

"We also want to engage all of our colleagues in primary care, our general practitioners to understand how better to engage people earlier and treat people earlier," she said.

"There is an up to ten-year delay from when people first start having problems with methamphetamine use to when they seek treatment, obviously that’s way too long."

The trial will operate out of locations in Darlinghurst and Mt. Druitt in Sydney, Newcastle and Adelaide.