The therapy is called "Prometa." As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, it's being promoted by Terren Peizer, a former junk bond salesman whose business is business, not medicine. He skipped the usual medical research and government approvals to rush Prometa to market.
Why the shortcuts? Peizer, who stands to make millions, says there's no way he can sit on Prometa when he believes it's the miracle treatment that millions are dying for.
"And if you had a son. If you had a son or a daughter, and maybe you do. If he's strung out on meth. And he's going to kill himself. Would you, if you had the opportunity. And I said to you, will you treat your son with Prometa?" Peizer asks. "Would you take that option for your son?"
Terren Peizer is selling hope to the desperate. If what he says is true, he's hit on the first medical treatment for methamphetamine addiction -- a therapy that he says works for cocaine and alcohol, too.
An alcoholic getting treatment with Prometa visits a clinic three times, getting one drug, flumazenil, by infusion, and two more, gabapentin and hydroxyzine, in the form of pills; meth and cocaine addicts require two additional treatments later in the month. And patients take gabapentin daily for a month. Prometa's treatment plans also call for nutritional supplements and counseling sessions.
The drugs have been around for years, but none of them was developed to treat addiction.
Dave Smart tried Prometa. He'd been hooked on meth for 20 years. "I tried NA. I tried AA. I tried in-patient treatment centers. I tried outpatient treatment centers. I've been to jail and to prison many times for different crimes due to meth," Smart tells Pelley.
"But, Dave, you've got a wife of more than 20 years. You've got children. You've got grandchildren. None of that was worth quitting for?" Pelley asks.
"All of that is worth quitting for. But it has such a strong hold on me. It did have such a strong hold on me that I couldn't quit. Believe me, I tried. I hated it. I hated my life on dope," Smart says.
Almost two million Americans used meth last year. In Tacoma, Wash., Smart took Pelley to see the damage meth can do.
"We tore this place apart," Smart tells Pelley, outside an unoccupied house.
Addicts swarmed the unoccupied house like locusts, stripped it, and sold the scrap. "All the wiring we took out of there, the wiring out of the house, there was TVs and all kinds of things in the house, all taken out," Smart explains.
"You stole it and you sold it all," Pelley asks.
"That's the bottom line, yes," Smart says.
"You know this is the kind of thing I've seen in Baghdad," Pelley remarks.
"Yeah, that's what we do to get our dope," Smart says.
Eight months ago, Smart was on his way to buy dope when he stopped at a Prometa clinic. He'd heard about it on TV. After about an hour at the clinic, instead of going on to his meth dealer, he went home.
Smart says the cravings were gone overnight. "That's the way it worked for me," he says.
"Dave, you have to understand how that sounds too good to be true," Pelley remarks.
"I do understand how it sounds too good to be true," Smart says.
"You never would have believed it," Pelley asks.
"No, no," Smart says. "I never would have believed it. You're right. But it happened."
"This tool is different. This tool has a unique and powerful biological response that is very robust," says Dr. Matthew Torrington, the medical director of the Prometa Center of Los Angeles.
Dr. Torrington has done addiction research at UCLA. He started prescribing Prometa two years ago. Torrington says for an addict, Prometa is like brakes on a car.
"You're asking them to go down the arduous road of recovery without the ability to stop. And their brain says 'Go,' and it's on! Okay, and they just don't have the
ability to say no," he says. "Because their brain told them that they were hungry for drugs the way you would be hungry for air with a plastic bag over your head. Okay?"
The three drugs used in Prometa were approved by the FDA years ago, but not for addiction treatment. One was approved to treat overdoses of sedatives, another to treat seizures, the other to calm anxiety. In the 1990's, a Spanish doctor put them together. The theory is they alter brain chemistry to end craving.
One patient explained it to Torrington like this: "He said, 'Look, Torrington, before the treatment my thought went, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, after the treatment my thoughts went cocaine, I wonder what happened to that rental car I lost, I wonder what happened to my cell phone I wonder what happened to my luggage boy I met my mom is mad at me, boy am I hungry, boy am I tired, cocaine.' It wasn't like he couldn't remember cocaine anymore, it was that cocaine went from all he could think about to being just another thing on the list," Torrington explains.