WVU Medicine hopes deep brain stimulation will help fight opioid addiction

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU Medicine is hoping a new clinical trial using deep brain stimulation will eventually help doctors combat opioid addiction.

The Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is running the first in the nation trial for patients who remain addicted after having tried conventional treatments. One patient, a man, has already had the surgery two weeks ago, and is being monitored said James Mahoney, a clinical neuropsychologist from the institute.

Mahoney is working on the trials and said West Virginia has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the country.

“So what we really want to do here is develop a protocol which looked at a new technology with deep brain stimulation to address the opioid epidemic with those folks who are struggling to achieve abstinence,” Mahoney said.

He said there are different types of therapies that exist but the problem is not every treatment will work on every patient. He said medication treatment, which involves patients taking medication like suboxone, which dulls opioid cravings does not stop everyone from relapsing.

Mahoney said often times patients relapse on other drugs like methamphetamine or benzodiazepines, so medical professionals have to think outside the box. That is why he said the end goal is not only to treat opioid addiction but address all forms of drug addiction.

“We’re looking at everyone, so heroin, prescription opioids, but also other substances as well, we’re obviously facing an opioid epidemic but we cannot overlook poly-substance use,” Mahoney said.

The plan Mahoney said is to run the trial on three more patients. He said the study is small but it allows them to really look in-depth and develop a safety profile. The team of medical professionals will monitor the patients once they leave the hospital to see if their characteristics have changed, if they’re using less, or hopefully, Mahoney said if they are not using at all.

“A quick note for those that are struggling with addiction, remain hopeful, there are a lot of options out there for treatment,” Mahoney said. “Obviously success doesn’t come right away, it takes that persistence–know that you have a lot of researchers and scientists and clinicians and doctors that are working hard to find treatment for everyone.”

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