Attacking depression directly
As both an alternative and a complement to other depression-fighting mechanisms such as therapy and antidepressant medicine, a new facility in Wilsonville offers a service that delves directly into depression's source.
Achieve TMS, which opened at 8755 S.W. Citizens Drive Suite 203 in Wilsonville Jan. 1, utilizes transcranial magnetic stimulation to alter brain chemistry and reduce depression.
Achieve TMS has 11 locations throughout Oregon and California and the Wilsonville location will be the third in the Portland metro area.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves sending magnetic pulses that penetrate 6-8 centimeters into the mood center of the cerebral cortex. The magnetic pulses stimulate underactive neurons and are purported to bolster sleep and concentration and to reduce depression.
The treatment was approved by the Federal Drug Administration to treat clinical depression in 2008 and deep depression, which is a severe form of depression, in 2013. TMS is also said to foster connectivity between distinct regions of the brain. The average treatment includes 30 20-minute sessions spanning a six-week period.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five percent of Americans over the age of 12 suffer from depression.
And of the approximately 600 patients who have received treatment from Achieve TMS, about 300 of them stopped suffering from depression symptoms after receiving the treatment, according to CEO Rick Christie.
"In a nutshell we're able to offer a treatment that has a better response and remission rate (than antidepressants) with little to no side effects," Christie said.
Christie says the treatment's benefits wear off after 12-to-18 months — though they're experimenting with ways to extend its window of effectiveness.
"Depression is a lifelong illness that people will deal with for years and years and part of their management should include TMS," he said.
Christie says depression reduction can take a couple weeks to kick in and that improved sleep is the first beneficial effect.
On the other hand, patients often feel minor side effects such as headaches following the procedures and a miniscule fraction of patients suffer from seizures. Christie discourages those with a history of seizures or those with metal plates in their brain from undergoing treatment.
Christie says the company's biggest challenge is attracting the attention of customers and medical service providers.
"They say currently only 1 percent of the population knows about TMS. Our main mission every day is outreach and patient education," he said.
However, he said many insurers began to cover TMS in 2015 — leading to greater popularity. Oregon insurance providers including Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Health Care, Moda Health, Providence Health and Services and others cover the treatment for depression.
One of the reasons Achieve TMS opened in Wilsonville is to provide residents of the southern region of the Portland-area a convenient option. The other two facilities are in Portland and Beaverton.
"The issue with Portland, because traffic is so heavy, people aren't willing to travel great distances," Christie said. "Our treatment series requires such a specific patient commitment. We want to make it so you don't have to drive more than 20 minutes."
Though only treatment for depression has been FDA approved, Christie says TMS could also treat schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, post-traumatic stress disorder and other pervasive maladies. The procedure has been certified by the European Union for treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and PTSD in part because of the EU's lower standards of approval than the FDA, Christie says.
Christie believes that as the treatment gains expanded FDA approval and more doctors find out about it, it will become an integral component of therapy.
"It will change the way psychiatrists practice psychiatry," he said.