Kentucky’s Promising Opioid Addiction Treatment Initiative Stalls As New AG Ousts Leading Advocate
Once a promising pioneer state in ibogaine research for the treatment of opioid use disorder, Kentucky’s appointment of Attorney General Russell Coleman has brought about the removal of Bryan Hubbard.
As chair and executive director of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission (KYOAAC), Hubbard led the proposal to use 5% of $42 million of $900 million from the state’s opioid settlements to fund the ibogaine studies.
Following his election in November, Coleman announced in the state’s Senate on Dec. 26 that the commission will now be led by Christoper Evans, a former DEA agent and interim acting administrator.
In the incoming AG’s words, the state would still “take a look at ibogaine (…) objectively.” Coleman had previously supported the “three-legged stool” of prevention, enforcement and treatment.
“There’s some great ideas out there on the prevention side. I want to see if we can scale those up… I understand there’s been a lot of ink spilled on ibogaine. My concern is we are not as focused as intently as we should be on the prevention piece of this,” he said.
In his resignation letter dated Dec. 26, Hubbard explains he decided to step down after a “stark discussion” with Coleman, and that he is profoundly grateful and optimistic for the “crucial responsibility” entrusted to him by former AG Daniel Cameron.
When facing management and distribution of the settlement funds, Hubbard says he outlined three strategic objectives: creating a child-based prevention infrastructure, eliminating barriers to long-term recovery and funding research for breakthrough treatments.
Among the latter was the visionary ibogaine project, which sought to position Kentucky as “a leader in neurobiological research” and bring healing to communities devastated by the opioid epidemic. Despite opposition, the project’s advocates persevered and gained bipartisan support.
In a letter addressing the People of Kentucky, Hubbard stated that in a prior meeting with Coleman, the incoming AG “acknowledged that ibogaine very well may have therapeutic value, but disagreed that the project should belong to or be executed by the Office of Attorney General.”
Coleman declared his intention of moving the commission “in a different direction” and requested Hubbard’s resignation by Dec. 31, 2023.
For Hubbard, the suggestion that funding for prevention programs and clinical trials with ibogaine are mutually exclusive was false. In his view, “the best prevention is effective treatment,” which offers the hope of breaking generational cycles of trauma and addiction. “In the absence of paradigm-shifting effective treatment, all other efforts are in vain.”
As much as he views Kentucky’s opportunity to pioneer a breakthrough “has been thwarted,” he is certain that the ibogaine project’s ultimate legacy will be the eventual delivery of ibogaine access “much sooner than it otherwise would have.”
Reason for Hope’s executive director, Brett Waters praised Hubbard’s commitment to bring healing to Kentuckians struggling with opioid use. The nonprofit helped gather supportive testimony from various groups, including ibogaine patients, veterans, family members of overdose victims, national leaders and mental health experts from renowned institutions.
Even FDA-linked doctors highlighted ibogaine’s potential for a breakthrough therapy designation.
Another KYOAAC ally, nonprofit VETS‘ co-founder and CEO Amber Capone said the recent leadership change is happening “at a crucial juncture.” Although the VETS team is disappointed that “this cutting-edge, potentially lifesaving research” will take place, she said this is only the beginning of the coalition’s efforts, aimed to broaden nationally.
“The opioid crisis necessitates a united and coordinated response at both state and federal levels, and VETS will never back down.”