May 23, 2024 - News

Atlanta lawmaker eyes ketamine and psilocybin coverage for employees

Illustration of a chaise lounge on top of a mushroom.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Atlanta police, firefighters, paper-pushers — heck, even the mayor — could seek out ketamine and psilocybin therapies to treat PTSD and other mental health issues if a new proposal at City Hall gains traction.

Why it matters: Academic research and word-of-mouth testimony have helped drive interest in ketamine and psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — and chipped away at perceptions of them as a club drug or psychedelic odyssey of the mind.

Zoom in: Sponsored by Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari, the legislation tasks the city's HR department with studying the pros and cons of ketamine and psilocybin to treat mental health issues and whether the employee health plan could cover the treatments.

  • HR officials would present a report to the City Council by December.

What they're saying: "We should be offering our employees — and especially our first responders, who are expected to be superhuman — the same amount of grace and providing them with a tool set to essentially overcome this issue," Bakhtiari told Axios.

Zoom out: Ketamine is an old anesthetic with fast-acting antidepressant effects administered through IV infusions, nasal sprays and lozenges, Axios' Sabrina Moreno reports.

  • Patients say it's a better, albeit costly, option that works more effectively than antidepressants — and with fewer side effects since it's often administered in low doses. Most insurers balk at paying for ketamine therapies because of the off-label use.

State of play: In Georgia, ketamine can be taken under the care of a psychiatrist. Bakhtiari, who says she has used ketamine therapy to treat past trauma, says some sessions can cost roughly $350 out of pocket.

  • The Georgia Composite Medical Board's ad hoc committee on ketamine meets Thursday virtually.

Flashback: Bakhtiari started thinking about the employee health plan after meeting a West Virginia police officer who used ketamine to treat PTSD after he witnessed a fellow officer commit suicide.

Zoom out: Cities including Denver and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized psilocybin use or possession.

  • Bakhtiari is not familiar with any city governments that have studied or proposed including the treatments under the employee health plans.

What's next: Bakhtiari plans to educate her colleagues that expanding the employee health plan isn't tantamount to decriminalization and is health care for employees.


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