COVID-19 was recognized as a disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Since this time, there has been an urgent need to develop new treatments for COVID-19 that use easily available and affordable medications. The ideal treatment would halt the progression of the disease in patients with mild cases prior to the need for ventilators and provide rescue treatment for patients with severe cases.

Researchers at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan began a new clinical trial aimed at treating COVID-19 with two common drugs- naltrexone and ketamine. The study is called SINK COVID-19 (Study of Immunomodulation using Naltrexone and Ketamine for COVID-19) and the aim is to enroll 500 patients, 18 years or older, that meet certain criteria for treatment.

Not only are naltrexone and ketamine easily accessible, especially in a hospital setting, but they have the potential to decrease the severity of the disease by reducing the autoimmune, hyperinflammatory stages of the virus.

Naltrexone, a drug originally approved for treating alcoholism and opiate addiction, has been used as a treatment for pain in multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and other conditions. In lower than standard doses, naltrexone also provides an anti-inflammatory benefit. Based on the mechanism of naltrexone, the researchers plan on administering this drug to patients who are in the earlier stages of COVID-19.

Ketamine, on the other hand, would be the second line of defense to rescue patients who have become severe. When administered below the normal anesthetic dose, ketamine has been found to rapidly reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines hours after treatment, which would reduce the inflammatory response. Ketamine is very well tolerated and has been a widely studied drug because of the many treatment options it provides.

The research team at Beaumont Hospital is very hopeful that these drugs will be successful. If they are, naltrexone and ketamine could greatly reduce the mortality rate of COVID-19 and revolutionize the global effort to treat the virus.


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