New drug offers hope for curing addiction; testing hits a snag

The Ethnic NewsWatch
Philadelphia Tribune, The

March 11, 1994

SECTION: Vol. 111; No. 26; Pg. 3-A

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

LOAD-DATE-MDX: March 23, 1994

LENGTH: 640 words

HEADLINE: New drug offers hope for curing addiction; testing hits a snag

BYLINE: Clay, Denise

BODY: New drug offers hope for curing addiction; testing hits a snag.

By Denise Clay

Tribune staff

One of the most pressing problems African-American society is facing is the wide path drug addiction has cut through the community. Drugs such as crack, heroin, cocaine, and others have gripped many in the community in their web of death, pain and destruction.

But, suppose there was a treatment available to those people who are battling drug addiction, but who, because of fears about its safety and a mistrust of the drug’s origin, have no access to it?

These are the circumstances surrounding the drug known as ibogaine. Ibogaine has been credited by some as a means of ending drug addiction, and is hailed by its advocates as an alternative to traditional addiction treatments such as methadone.

The drug has its origin in Gabon, West Africa in the roots of the iboga plant. The iboga root is used in certain rites of passage ceremonies in West African nations and is thought to be hallucinogenic, according to reports from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

NIDA decided to take a look at ibogaine in 1991 when Howard Lotsof, a former heroin addict, brought stories to the institute relating that former addicts who took some of the root were losing their craving for other drugs, according to Dr. Frank Vocci, deputy director of medications development. Vocci, who has been working on the research since its inception, said the hallucinogenic properties of the drug led it to be classified Schedule I, which means the government thought there was a high possibility of its being abused.

“We started the ibogaine project three years ago,” Vocci said, “and because it was a Schedule I drug it was hard to get our hands on it. In order to research it, we had to get an import license to get it in the country, the exporter had to get an export license, and we had to have a research license to research it.”

Because of the paper trail NIDA had to follow to get ibogaine into the country, research was delayed 18 months. Research currently being done is examining the pharmacological, toxicological, and psychological effects the drug has on mice. During the routine and special studies which are a part of any NIDA research testing, a setback developed, Vocci said.

“We detected a lesion in the cerebellum of the rats we tested,” he said. “This won’t stop the research, but it will slow us down for at least another year. We’re still years away from it hitting the market. The lesions were a snag. We’ll go back and reconfirm our research and do monkey testing.”

This setback hasn’t deterred advocates of the drug’s usage from singing its praises and calling for research to begin on the drug’s effect on humans. Dana Beal, an ibogain advocate and a member of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) New York’s Harm Reduction team, said the drug has been in use in humans in Africa for years.

“As a matter of fact, in Africa, besides using large amounts of the root bark in rites of passage for people reaching puberty or for people who have a psychological problem,” he said, “sometimes it was used in the hunt, because they could stand still and awake for as long as two days.”

Beal also said those who call ibogaine a hallucinogen are missing the point. He said the reason it was so designated was that the Food and Drug Administration has no classification of drug designed to describe it.

“It’s not truly hallucinogenic,” he said. “You have to understand that the FDA has only four categories (of drugs).”

“I think there’s an element of racism involved here,” he said. “This is a natural product and it comes from African traditional medicine. These people have their particular science, and if it’s pharmeceutical companies making synthetic drugs, it’s Western science and they want to get all the money.”

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