Controversial drug offers hope to patients with chronic pain, PTSD

A clinic in the Texas Hill Country is treating patients with ketamine

SAN ANTONIO – Emma Nordstrom is like many teens.

Until she talks about the neurological illness she battles, complex regional pain syndrome.

"We didn't know what it was at first, not many people know," Nordstrom said.

Her parents suffer too, knowing there is no cure to help their daughter.

But there is relief in the form of a drug over 50 years old, along with it comes resistance.  

"When you hear other experts talking about why ketamine won't work, you need to ask yourself is there some other economic motivator,” said Dr. Carl Bonnet. “There's a huge vested interest for trying to create a new medication that can potentially do what ketamine does, put it under patent.  And make somebody a lot of money."

Bonnet’s Hill Country clinic is one of only four in the state of Texas that treats patients battling chronic pain, severe depression and PTSD with ketamine.

"It's a medication that basically sort of disconnects the brain from feeling external stimuli," Bonnet explains.

But due to a lack of health coverage or the stereotype that ketamine is a party drug it remains out of reach to many people.

For the Nordstrom family it means trips from their home in New Mexico to Texas.

Another patient, seeking relief, says he once considered suicide.

Michael Flores joined the Army right out of high school and deployed to Iraq in 2003.

Thirteen months in a war zone took its toll.

"Bullet just goes inches from your head,” Flores said. “All it sounds is like a bullwhip like double pops."

Flores lost friends in the war, but had little time to mourn.

"I actually broke down and my first sergeant walked over to me grabbed me by my arm and says

‘Cry later we've got a mission to continue’" Flores recalled.

Flores said for 10 years he tried to find relief, but his medications weren’t working. So a friend told him about ketamine.

"Until you've been in a situation where you really have had a rocket land near you or you've been shot at there's absolutely no way to really describe what veterans are going through," Bonnet said.

Before starting treatment Flores said he considered suicide. Now he said his life has turned around.

“Ketamine to take away some of that burden. I'm happy but I want more still. Who doesn't? Who doesn't want more out of their life?" Flores said.