When patients first walk up the staircase to Resurgence Ketamine Clinic, they are often, metaphorically, at the end of the road.

Most have lost years — decades, even — of their lives to mood disorders or chronic pain, and have made little progress through standard treatments.

Most of the roughly 20 patients treated at the clinic since its February opening have left with a smile, said Dr. Christian Hodach, an anesthesiologist and the clinic’s medical director.

“You get to know them and develop a rapport,” Hodach said. “At the end, they’re just so different.”

The Tenderfoot Hill Road suite’s aesthetic is a soothing blend of blues and greens designed to put visitors at ease — which Hodach credits to wife Mandy, the clinic’s vice president and a self-taught interior designer.

In the two treatment rooms, patients recline in cushy armchairs while Hodach administers the sedative ketamine in intravenous doses meant to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, as well as substance use disorder.

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Ketamine infusion therapy is a little-understood modality, and an expensive one — treatment costs anywhere from $450 to $970 per infusion, according to the clinic’s website. Because the method is not FDA-approved, most insurance companies will not cover it, Hodach said. However, The New York Times reported in March that the FDA approved a nasal spray called esketamine, which contains an active portion of the ketamine molecule and is marketed under the name Spravato, to help people with treatment-resistant depression.

Hodach estimated the infusions have had an 85 percent success rate among his mood disorder patients — which, he said, is double the success rate of oral medication.

“I tell my patients, ‘You have to commit to this, and you also have to commit financially, but it’s going to make you better,’” Hodach said. “Most people have been dealing with this 20 years or more … and at that point, people feel like it doesn’t matter how much it costs. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what they can get back.”

Each infusion treatment takes about 45 minutes, with Hodach monitoring patients’ vital signs via a video camera in his office, he said. Patients generally receive three infusions over the course of a week, returning for three more sessions the next week before essentially “graduating” from the series.

Hodach uses the reporting tool MoodMonitor to track his patients’ post-series progress. The system checks in with patients via text message, requesting a daily mood score and sending clinically verified surveys every other week, he said.

That information is then deposited in a database, which Hodach can track over time and share with primary care physicians or psychiatrists.

Because ketamine’s effects persist longer than standard antidepressants’, patients can typically wait anywhere from six weeks to three months before requiring what doctors call a maintenance infusion, Hodach said.

“As with any medicine, it wears off, but the effects linger, and that’s the good part about this treatment,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is no magic bullet, but this is the best of what we have in the world.”

So far, Hodach’s patients have reported very few negative side effects of the drug, outside of “a little bit of nausea,” he said.

“I know if you do enough of them, things will happen, but so far … overall everyone has done just phenomenally,” Hodach said. “They feel great. They take less medicine and they function the way they want to.”

Although ketamine has gained a reputation for recreational use in popular culture — as the party drug “Special K” — medical research dating back to the early 1990s shows that low doses of the anesthetic can effectively treat depressive symptoms on a long-term basis, Hodach said.

Hodach witnessed the drug’s benefits firsthand during his time as an anesthesiologist in North Carolina. He would administer low doses of ketamine to surgical patients and track both their mood and pain levels during their five-day in-patient stays.

“Inevitably, their pain was much reduced … and they had a brighter affect,” Hodach said. “It wasn’t tremendous, but it definitely was noticeable.

“We were thinking, ‘We’re probably on to something here.’”

The more Hodach learned about ketamine, the more he felt compelled to share its medical benefits with people who were otherwise out of options. When he and his wife moved to southern Colorado in 2018, Hodach realized he had found the right place to do that.

“After seeing how much of a culture shift there was from the South to here … I felt like it was a calling for me,” Hodach said. “I felt the urge to just do this.”

Depression and PTSD are much more pronounced in areas with a high military population like the Springs, Hodach said. Having lost two friends to suicide as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, Hodach knows this all too well.

“This is kind of a way to honor them,” Hodach said. “I may not have been able to save my buddies back then, but if I can save one life doing this, that is worth it.” n CSBJ

Editor’s note: Consult your physician before beginning any drug regimen.