Deep Brain Stimulation Offers Hope As Future Treatment For Opioid Addiction
Amidst the opioid epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, researchers are desperately trying to find new treatments for opioid use disorder. One such treatment, expected to be tested in clinical trials this year, is deep brain stimulation (DBS.)
DBS is a therapy currently used to treat Parkinson’s disease, bipolar disorder, and dystonia (persistent or intermittent muscle contractions that cause abnormal movements or postures.)
The implant, which is controlled by a device similar to a pacemaker, sends electrical signals to the reward center of the brain, with the purpose of mitigating the over-activity responsible for addictive behavior.
One drawback is that implant insertion requires invasive surgery – neurosurgeons make a small incision in the scalp and drill a hole about the size of a dime into the skull, then place the implant directly onto the brain.
There is a small chance of some significant risks associated with the implant, including serious infections and cognitive, emotional, and behavior disturbances, according to one 2011 study. Moreover, this treatment may be considered a last resort for many addicts who have been unsuccessful at beating the addiction after exhausting all other options.
Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon, hired by West Virginia University to conduct the trial, may not find it easy to recruit participants, however, In 2010, research conducted by Judy Luigjes at the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, succeeded in recruiting only two out of eight participants, Luigjes told STAT.
Rezai believes that this study, however, could result in DBS becoming a widely accessible option for the treatment of opioid addiction by the year 2025. That’s a long time to wait, however, while thousands continue to die of opioid overdoses in the U.S. every year, and millions more continue to suffer from addiction.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology