Imagine living in a world where there was a way to curb drug addiction and withdrawal symptons?
How transformative would that be in the United States, where the opioid drug epidemic has put a paralyzing plague on every county and has claimed more lives than the Vietnam war? Drugs have destroyed not only the lives of the users but also thousands upon thousands of families, and have led to overcrowding in the courts, jails, prisons and even graveyards
But what if there was an answer?
And what if the viable solution involved no pills and took only seven days to complete? The cravings that keep drug addicts coming back for more, no matter what the cost, are gone forever. It’s also void of the typical withdrawal symptoms like stomach cramps, insomnia, vomiting, loss of appetite and restlessness.
A miracle? A godsend? Or hogwash.
As far-fetched as it sounds, as preposterous as it seems, a solution could be at hand. That’s the claim of scientists and doctors working with neuro-electric therapy (NET). It’s a device that’s been around since the 1970s when a Scottish missionary surgeon in Hong Kong named Dr. Meg Patterson accidentally discovered it. She was trialing a Chinese technique of electro-acupuncture on patients who were hooked on opium. The original experiments weren’t focused on addiction, but the participants told Dr. Patterson the treatment eliminated their desire for the narcotic.
She dedicated her life to honing the device that was continually dismissed by the medical community who asked for expensive trial after trial. Patterson died in 2001 after suffering a stroke in 1999.
Now, Scottish filmmaker Norman Stone, who has captured a Bafta (the British Oscar) and two Emmys, has produced and directed a documentary called “The Final Fix,” along with Tim Neeves of Prospect Arts, that is a riveting story narrated by award-winning Scottish actor Ewan McGrergor about four Kentucky drug addicts who successfully go through the NET treatment. It claims to work for everything from nicotine to alcohol and every other form of drug dependency, from prescription painkillers to cocaine and heroin.
It uses a device only slightly larger than an MP3 player with tiny electrodes taped behind the participants’ ears. The NET machine is calibrated to send low-voltage electrical pulses, depending on the individual’s addiction, into the brain.
By accelerating the brain’s own natural repair process, it allows it to respond normally again to endorphins, the body’s stress and pain-relieving hormones, which are being blocked by long-term use of drugs.
Streaming giants Netflix and Hulu have expressed interest in showing the documentary. Organizers plan on pitching it to Apple and Amazon as well. Several private screenings were shown in Kentucky last week.
‘Everybody is skeptical’
“Everybody is skeptical at first,” said Larry Martin, a retired Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) missions team leader, who began working with the treatment in 2006. “Greg Correll, a business owner from Lancaster, Ky., and I were the first two involved in Kentucky. Greg considered it to be snake oil in the beginning, but now is totally convinced of its value."
In 2006, Martin pulled together a group of people who were dealing with how to address drug addiction for the purpose of hearing information about the device. Martin remembers telling them, "I don't expect you to believe what you are about to hear until you see it for yourself." Indeed, what they heard was startling.
“When we were finished with the meeting," David Akers, then the KBC mountain missions director, said, ‘We have to do something about this. It’s a gift from the Lord.’’’
They worked with a group of pastors and community leaders to organize the first treatment group of 12 men in Powell County and then smaller pilot projects started in other sections of the state.
“My role was bringing people together so they could work together and use this tool,” Martin said.
The results were astounding with about 70 percent of those who finished treatment being clean from drugs years later, Martin said.
As for the documentary, it is a work of passion for Stone, who had done other film projects on the subject decades ago and had known Dr. Patterson personally .Over the years, he met stonewalls from the medical community in Scotland to endorse the treatment then and still does today.
But Stone has never given up on the idea of what the device could do.
His documentary “tells the story exactly as it happened,” Martin said of the treatment of the Kentucky addicts. “I was there every day they were being treated. It has great potential and I’m sure reaction to it will be mixed. (But) we have so many examples already (of successful treatments). One man treated in 2011 is now vice president of one of the strongest rehab centers in the state and there are numerous other examples of people doing great after being treated with the device.”
Four men are featured in the documentary. They came from different parts of Kentucky with various forms of drug addiction. The Isaiah House rehabilitation center in Chaplin Ky., was the site of the treatment administered to the four men – Brandon Garrison, Kevin Arnold, Robert Capley and Ross Smith. All four had previously tried and failed to kick respective drug habits that gripped their lives.
But with each previous detox treatment, the pain had been too much for each to bear. They couldn’t break the addiction. This treatment would prove different for them.
A fifth man, David Emanuel, who was addicted to heroin after getting hooked on opiate-based painkillers prescribed after he was hit by a car, started the trial, but he smuggled in drugs and had to be taken out of the program. His fate is revealed in the documentary as well.
A feeling of hope
Eric Allen, a team leader of missions mobilization with the KBC, was at the Christian-based Isaiah House when the first men were hooked up to the NET device for the documentary. He knows the pain of addiction firsthand as he has had family tragedies with drug abuse, including losing a nephew to a heroin overdose.
“I’m pretty close to the subject and was amazed at the NET device,” he said. “I had heard about it previously, but to see these guys, knowing what it’s like to see someone go through detox, and see they didn’t have the nervousness they had before, the shaking … it’s unbelievable, it really is. It’s kind of crazing sounding, until you see it.”
Allen also said the quality of the documentary is top-notch and “tells the story really well." After seeing the documentary he says he "came away with a feeling of hope for something that would really help people to come off drug addiction.”
Allen hopes legislators in the United States as well as the Federal Drug Administration will allow more studies to be done because “so many people will benefit from this device if they approve it.”
According to Governor Andy Beshear, who appears in the documentary, in Kentucky some 30 residents a week fatally overdose on pharmaceutical or illegal opioids. He sued many companies as the attorney general of Kentucky the past four years.
And across the nation, the crisis grows.
Stone said he first tried to do the documentary in Huntington, W.Va., which is considered the epicenter for the opioid epidemic. However, the Huntington mayor politely declined, he said, having been inundated with bad publicity and documentaries on the subject.
“Frankly, the good mayor did not want it,” Stone said. “He said they were getting nine offers a week and thought, ‘Why are we allowing people to come in and make our town look like a toilet?’ I understand that. By that time, I had gotten to know Kentucky drug czar Van Ingram and Larry Martin, who we call Mr. Kentucky.”
Ingram also appears in the documentary as does Beshear.
“The rise of opioid analgesic sales was meteoric,” Ingram says in the film. “We reached our peak dispensing 371 million dosage units of opioids in a state of 4 million people … That’s insane.”
Stone said he was going to make the film regardless of the outcome.
“I had a slight expectation that this was going to work,” he said. “I promised if it didn’t work, I’d show it too. Even for me and my crew, we couldn’t see it all. We see people coming off (drugs) not vomiting, no diarrhea and five to seven days later, that are well. More than well, inflated back to a shiny person capable of thinking for themselves and with no more cravings. They were sleeping and eating like horses. They’re as surprised as anyone. The critics and skeptics, when they came in, were a bit dumbfounded. They (the addicts) weren’t rolling around in the corner.”
The film was begun two years ago and not only shows the treatment period but the men eight months later. The cravings were still gone. Garrison was a full-time student at Campbellsville University and the others were holding down jobs. (In 2020, Garrison has completed his program and is a certified professional welder. Capley is a peer counselor with people coming off addiction. Smith is an employee of a drug recovery center. Arnold continues to work on his family farm.)
Not everybody, however, who inquired about doing the treatment were sold on it and some said no thanks, Stone said. “When you take an addict of maybe 20 years and tell him we’re going to take away your drugs, and they’re on the edge of withdrawal when they arrived at the place, it’s difficult. Then you tell him we’re going to plug you into something electrical with a low pulse. Nobody is volunteering.”
Of the original five who consented to the study, two of the men were from Whitesburg, one each from Manchester, Louisville and Lexington. In the end, those who completed the treatment were glad they did it. The cravings were gone almost after the fifth day, Martin said, and even skeptical observers were amazed.
“I was very impressed with the end result,” said Owen Fielding, a top drug addiction clinician from Scotland, who had conducted NET studies before and was hired to conduct this study in Kentucky. “It’s a story about humanity and human suffering but also a story of hope. My focus was not on the cameras or Norman’s (filming) team. My focus was on conducting the study, a safe and effective treatment. To be honest, not to sound ambivalent, but I’ve seen these happen so many hundreds and hundreds of times. Human behavior is variable. I didn’t have any other expectation that those who received treatment would come out the other end feeling quite new. When someone doesn’t complete the treatment, that is a human behavior.”
Other studies on NET treatment
This isn’t the only academic study on NET through the years.
In-house studies in Scotland and Kentucky show significant reduced withdrawal symptoms in 80 percent of the 552 participants with 92 percent saying it had substantially eliminated cravings, Fielding said.
An analysis of 104 methadone and heroin users treated during a 2012 analysis showed a decrease in both craving and withdrawal symptoms. At six months, abstinence rates were 61 percent, compared to 40 percent for normal post-detox.
In 1992, a random, double-blind placebo trial compared 18 opiate-dependent and 25 cocaine-dependent volunteers on NET and a placebo version of NET produced “no significant difference between the active or placebo groups” toward withdrawal symptoms or cravings, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for the Study of Addiction.
Yet despite the studies and trials, NET doesn’t have the support needed from the medical community yet.
The documentary opens with clips from pharmaceutical company info-mercials from the 1990s where viewers hear that the long-term use of powerful opioids such as oxycontin was completely safe and “less than 1% of patients become addicted.”
Drug deaths in the U.S. soared from 6,000 in 1998 to 72,000 in 2017 with many of those caused by legal and illegal opioids.
Pharmaceutical giants are facing massive lawsuits from multiple states, including Kentucky, for pushing addictive prescription drugs in pursuit of profit.
“The doctors turned their back on this because of the three P’s – profit, power and prestige,” Stone said. “They regularly put Dr. Patterson back in her place. Organizations like the FDA remember her. They can change the rules, close the door and not upset the apple cart on the profitability front.”
While the NET treatment was created by a Scottish doctor in Hong Kong, NET Recovery Corp., is in California with Dr. Patterson’s son-in-law, Joe Winston, as the CEO. They would like to have some random-controlled trials across America to satisfy the FDA.
The National Institutes of Health, the government’s medical research body, is expected to commission clinical trials later this year and a Scottish university has discussed setting up a multi-site study to investigate the rehabilitation tool. Stone and Fielding met with several government officials in Washington D.C. earlier this month to discuss NET.
Fielding said the documentary makes the viewer ask the question: If this works, what are we going to do about it?
“Why shouldn’t we investigate this robustly?” he said. “If it works, why shouldn’t we use it? A couple of people say that in the film. America really needs this.”