University tests new OCD drug

Approximately one in 40 people are affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Cati Vanden Breul

University researchers might have found a new use for an old drug.

Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry are testing the drug – originally developed to treat tuberculosis – for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects approximately one in 40 people, said Sharon Lohman, leader of an obsessive-compulsive disorder support group in St. Louis Park, Minn.

People with the disorder become obsessed with things, such as fear of dirt and germs, Lohman said. They perform rituals, such as compulsive hand-washing, to get rid of the anxiety, she said.

People can suffer from mild, moderate or severe cases of the disorder, and those with the worst cases are classified as disabled.

Behavioral therapy has proven effective in treating patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, said psychiatry professor and study co-investigator Suck Won Kim.

Therapists expose patients to their fears by forcing them to use the bathroom and then restricting them from washing their hands.

“They get freaked out, (but) they have to live with their dirty hand,” Kim said. “Gradually, the anxiety and panic die down in about 90 minutes,” he said.

After going through the experience, patients realize nothing terrible happened and that they are still alive. Over time, their fears begin to lessen, he said.

The process generally takes three months, but investigators believe the drug will enhance the effect of therapy and speed up the process to one month, Kim said.

Research participants will take the drug an hour before going to each therapy session.

University researchers received a grant from the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation.

It is the first and only group to conduct a study in which the drug is not being tested for treatment of the disorder but instead for its use in the enhancement of therapy, Kim said.

“The study is promising – everything is worth a try,” Lohman said.

Kim and his colleague, Matt Kushner, principal investigator of the project, are still looking for study participants.

Testing began last week and will finish once 20 patients have completed therapy with the drug.