Feeling thirsty, Drew Harkins of Minneapolis bypassed the watering hole known as Lord Fletcher's in Spring Park and headed straight for the blue bus parked outside the restaurant one recent Sunday afternoon.

Two men with "Hydrate MN" T-shirts sprung into action. They checked his pulse and blood pressure. They quizzed him about his medical history and asked if he was on any medications. Satisfied with his answers, they hooked him up to an IV and injected fluids into his arm.

The diagnosis: mild dehydration. The treatment: hydration therapy.

Bold, trendy and a bit spendy, this new remedy is being embraced by many to treat everything from hangovers to the flu to morning sickness.

From Miami to Chicago to New Orleans to Las Vegas, devotees are flocking to this alternative to downing a glass of water. Now, it's making its debut in the Twin Cities area.

"I'd like to say we invented the wheel, but we didn't. We're the first to bring it to Minneapolis," said Josh Attree, operator of the budding business known as Hydrate MN and Hydrate IV Therapy, which launched last month.

A real estate developer, Attree, 30, said hydration therapy has long been embraced by professional athletes and the military to replenish lost fluids quickly. The body absorbs twice as much water with an IV vs. drinking water, he said.

Not everyone is sold on the idea, however. Dr. Dang Tran, a family physician and vice president of medical practice for Fairview Medical Group, questioned the benefits of hydration therapy for most people — especially considering the cost.

"If you look at this list of ailments they say they can treat, they're all in the group of conditions where typically things get better with time," he said.

For a fee that ranges from $25 to $149, the paramedics and registered nurses aboard the Hydrate IV Therapy bus serve up a customized IV solution designed to perk up wilting customers. Although the blend of ingredients varies by ailment, it can include vitamin C and a mix of B vitamins. Anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea medicines are added, as needed.

In most other cities, hydration therapy is billed as the ultimate hangover cure. Some of the promotional ads for Hydrate MN also tout its effectiveness on hangovers, but Attree said that's not the main focus.

"The majority of people are dehydrated," he said. "Physicians have been telling people for years to drink more water, but they're not doing it."

Hydration nation

The different solutions were created under the supervision of the business' medical director, Dr. Richard Tholen.

A local plastic surgeon, Tholen said the IV fluid used is made by a pharmaceutical company. Added to that are precisely formulated bags of vitamins and amino acids. "They've been carefully vetted to make sure they're safe," he said.

Attree said he's not a fan of needles, but the ones used to hydrate people aren't too intimidating. "We use a small-gauge needle, a pediatric needle," he said. "It's so tiny that you don't feel it go in."

The bus — outfitted with eight leather seats and shower hooks to hold the dripping IV bags — parks at select restaurants and at running events. House calls make up another part of the business, with paramedics and nurses making runs to the offices and homes of customers who book appointments. Soon, Attree said, Hydrate MN hopes to have spalike offices for clients to visit.

Outside Lord Fletcher's, the bus drew curious stares from boaters on Lake Minnetonka and folks on their way to the waterfront restaurant.

Brothers Cody and Luke Rassatt were intrigued enough to give it a try.

For Cody, 31, of Mound, it was his second dose in two days. He was desperate for some relief from the pain he was feeling after getting stung by 30 bees. After a couple of rounds of hydration therapy with anti-inflammatory medicine, he smiled and declared: "I feel great!"

He even convinced his brother to do it.

"I've heard this is way better than drinking water or Gatorade," Luke Rassatt said, sitting on a camp chair outside the bus with a needle taped to the back of his right hand and an IV bag dripping above him from a pole. "I'm probably always dehydrated," said Rassatt, 30, a volunteer firefighter from Rockford. "I don't drink enough water."

After several minutes under the drip, he, too, said he felt revived. "I came here with a pounding headache and it's gone."

Questions raised

While some doctors endorse hydration therapy businesses, others are wary.

People should be made aware of potential risks involved with getting an IV, Tran said.

"People think an IV is fairly innocuous, and yet there are plenty of complications that can occur," he said. "There are plenty of times when, if you place the IV wrong and it doesn't go into the vein, it can leak out into the tissues that are surrounding the veins." That may lead to bruising and bleeding, he said.

Still, the risk of that happening is small if the people who are administering the IV therapy are good at what they do, he admitted.

The ones hired by Hydrate MN are, Tholen said. Only registered nurses and paramedics handle the IVs.

"These are people who can start an IV in the back of a moving ambulance rig," he said. "I think they can probably hit your vein if you're quiet and not moving with all the skill that's essential to the job."

Harkins, 31, is no stranger to hydration therapy. He became a fan while he was living in Atlanta, home to a hydration clinic. He looked relaxed as the paramedic, wearing gloves, tapped the inside of his arm searching for a vein and then slid the needle into his arm.

They chatted amiably as the yellow fluid flowed into his vein. He'd been feeling a bit rundown from work and exercise, he explained. When he saw on Twitter that the Hydrate IV Therapy truck would be out at Lake Minnetonka, he decided it was worth a Sunday drive to check it out.

Fifteen minutes into his appointment, Harkins said he had noticed a physical change. "There's a little bit of that cellular refreshment going on," he said.