West Virginia University scientists are using brain implants to treat opioid addiction


The onset of drug addiction is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person. If left unchecked, the condition can destroy families, careers, and even lives, in the most severe cases.

Unfortunately, many Americans suffer from some form of drug addiction, and existing treatment methods — while many — are not always completely effective at stopping future relapses. That’s precisely the dilemma West Virginia University medical pros hope to solve with their latest procedure.

The University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, according to a recent announcement, is the first in the US to launch a clinical trial that uses “deep brain stimulation” (DBS) to treat patients suffering from “treatment-resistant opioid use disorder.”

This form of stimulation aims to target the “reward centers” in the brain, which, while generally beneficial for human development, can become compromised as an addiction (of any kind) manifests itself. In this case, DBS will send a small electrical pulse toward this region of a patient’s brain when it detects addiction-related mental behaviors, like drug cravings. In theory, this should act as an interruption to destructive habits or feelings.

We obviously aren’t scientists or medical professionals, so we won’t speculate about the potential risks that may come with this form of treatment. However, it should be noted that it is not being applied willy-nilly — the clinical trial in question will only have four patients to start with, and those patients will be carefully screened.

They must have failed various other treatment methods, including medication, psychotherapy, and in-or-outpatient rehab programs. In other words, for the patients selected to participate in this trial, DBS is a last resort.

We do not yet know how effective the treatment will be, but we might find out soon. University doctors have already successfully installed a “Medtronic DBS device” in the addiction and reward center of their trial’s first 33-year-old male participant.

With a little luck, his opioid addiction might recede down the line, or perhaps be eliminated entirely — only time will tell. We wish him, and the doctors involved in this experiment, all the best.

Lead image credit: Shutterstock


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