The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission held a public hearing on Sept. 15, inviting a wide variety of people to speak about a plan that involves using ibogaine to treat addiction.
Ben Chandler, who served as Kentucky Attorney General between 1995-2003, and also held a position as a House Representative between 2004-2013. Now he’s the President and CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and was the first to speak at the hearing. He explained his close relationship with the harms of the opioid crisis whose cousin had committed suicide at age 30 due to drug addiction. He also spoke about his brother who died from a fentanyl overdose earlier this year. “We have not been able to solve the problem, in my judgment,” Chandler said about the opioid crisis. “It continues to be intractable, and we need as many tools as we can get. And I believe that a drug like ibogaine, from what I’ve read, it has the potential to make the difference that we need to have made—or at least a big difference.”
Jerry Catlett, who is a parent of an ibogaine patient, explained his initial thoughts about ibogaine—describing it as “another gimmick”—until he saw how it began to help his son recover from opioid use disorder. “My wife and I had already come to the conclusion that our son was a dead man walking,” Catlett said. “[My son] tells me that within a few minutes of taking the treatment, he was no longer addicted to opioids. Six months later, he did take another treatment. Today he’s still opioid addiction free.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was also in attendance, explaining the positive effect of ibogaine for combat veterans, including Texas Rep. Morgan Luttrell, as well as his own brother. “Why wouldn’t we explore clearly these breakthrough treatments given their potential to produce curative results not attainable with existing pharmacology?” Perry said. “You have the opportunity for Kentucky to lead the nation on exploring this potentially revolutionary new treatment. I’m before you today not as a political figure, but as a fellow human being asking you to consider the stunningly positive potential of ibogaine research.”
Many more personal testimonies were shared, as seen in the full video here. In a closing statement, commission chair and executive director W. Bryan Hubbard thanked everyone for attending, especially military veterans “…who were willing to lay it all on the line for us, and who have done so again today with visceral candor.”
The commission first announced its plans to consider treatments for opioid use disorder back in May. “Kentucky must overcome the opioid epidemic by any and all means necessary,” Hubbard said in a press release at the time. “As we begin the next phase in our fight against this crisis, we must explore any treatment option that demonstrates breakthrough therapeutic potential. Our goal is to investigate the creation of a new standard for treating opioid dependence, so we can finally end this cycle of pain in the Commonwealth.” The press release shared that overdose-related deaths fell by 5% in 2022, but are still up 60% since 2019. Since 2020, 7,665 Kentuckians have died due to overdosing.
At the time, Hubbard announced that the commission plans to “explore the possibility of devoting no less than $42 million over the next six years to the creation of public-private partnerships which can incubate, support and drive the development of ibogaine all the way through the FDA approval process.” The funds come from a $26 billion settlement between multiple states and local governments, and large pharmaceutical companies who had their hand in creating the opioid crisis.
These public hearings will help the commission make a decision on how to invest the $42 million and is set to make a decision in November.
In May, the University of Kentucky (UK) launched a Cannabis Center dedicated to studying cannabis. The University awarded its “first set of faculty pilot grants to support innovative and collaborative cannabis research.”
Shanna Babalonis, the director of the Cannabis Center, is hopeful that the research will help residents in the state. “We are excited for this opportunity to expand and accelerate cannabis science at UK and conduct studies focused on the public health impacts of cannabis that can directly affect the lives of Kentuckians,” said Babalonis. “We have talented and dedicated researchers across a range of disciplines right here on campus who can contribute meaningful science to the center from multiple perspectives.”
In June, legislators introduced HR-3684, also called “Douglas Mike Day Psychedelic Therapy to Save Lives Act of 2023.” The bill honors an advocate and military veteran who passed away earlier this year. If passed, it would fund studies on psilocybin, ibogaine, MDMA, and 5-MeO-DMT and their efficacy in treating a variety of medical conditions.