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Anti-Addiction Drug To Be Tested

August 5, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ If it works on humans as well as it did on animals, a drug used in Europe to treat epilepsy could be a powerful weapon against addictions, including cocaine and nicotine, scientists said Wednesday.

Scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory hope to begin human testing this fall on gamma vinyl-GABA, or GVG, which appears to curb cocaine craving in rats and monkeys.

``You would no longer crave cocaine, because the pleasure would be gone,″ said Stephen Dewey, who led the research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s facility on Long Island.

He worked with other scientists for a dozen years on the research, also funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The results were released Wednesday by the journal Synapse and presented at a news conference at the New York Academy of Science.

Researchers first became interested in GVG because it reduces the level of a brain chemical called dopamine, believed to trigger the ``high″ feelings from drugs.

Cocaine elevates the concentration of dopamine, the brain’s ``feel good″ chemical at the heart of drug addiction. But lab rats trained to press a bar that delivered cocaine stopped doing so after being given GVG, Dewey said.

``The animals pushed the bar once, pushed it again, and then they stopped,″ he said. The drug ``takes away the reward effect.″

Before human testing begins, GVG, now being used in Europe and Canada to treat epilepsy, must be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.

FDA spokeswoman Ivy Kupec said Vigabatrin, the brand name for GVG, has not been approved for use in the United States by the Maryland-based agency. Dewey says he anticipates approval by October.

Volunteers for human testing are to be recruited from among cocaine addicts. Some will be given placebos, while others will receive the active test drug for three to six months. Scientists will then measure their ability to stay away from cocaine _ and for how long _ compared to untreated addicts.

Dr. Jonathan Brodie, a New York University psychiatrist who worked on the research, said behavioral factors also must be considered in any kind of addiction. He said the new drug is not so much a solution as ``a strategy.″

Dewey said GVG has the potential to block addiction to substances such as nicotine, heroin and some amphetamines.

``If this can do for humans what it did for animals, we may have opened the door for addicts around the world to kick their habit,″ he said.

Research is now underway on the ability of the test drug to block the effects of nicotine and heroin use.

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