WVU to treat addictions with brain stimulation, implants
By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
Nov. 13, 2017
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — WVU Medicine plans to expand addictions treatment next year to include magnetic stimulation and implants to calm the parts of patients' brains where increased activity produces cravings.
Dr. Ali Rezai, the new director of WVU's Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, said Monday that major advances in brain scanning have also led to new treatments for movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, and psychological afflictions including depression and severe anxiety.
"One of our goals here is to do ultrasound-based neuromodulation for addictions and develop a protocol for brain implants for severe addictions," Rezai said. "Implants are not for the initial phase of addiction."
A lot of related work is being done elsewhere with external modulation with magnets and external electrical stimulation, as well as some implants in Europe to treat alcohol addiction, he said.
Rezai, a neurosurgeon who said he does two or three brain implant surgeries a week, emphasized that the new treatments are adjuncts to current therapies. Those typically involve counseling and medications, such as suboxone, that help to inhibit cravings.
The institute also plans to advance technologies involving sensors that patients can wear to monitor their physiology and better predict and address addictive behaviors, Rezai said.
At a series of talks with reporters Monday in Morganton by WVU staff, Professor Frankie Tack said only about 10 percent of people needing addictions treatment nationally are getting it, and there aren't nearly enough trained counselors and case managers. She cited the 2010 spike in opioid addictions and the crisis in West Virginia, where data show the shortage is particularly acute.
Tack is developing a minor study concentration for the university in addiction studies, which still awaits needed approvals. She noted that high school athletes are among the high-risk populations for addiction because of injuries and painkillers. She also described "three rings of destruction" around an addict, saying the first is family members, who can be greatly harmed and need help as well.
Dr. Cassie Leonard, professor and obstetrician, said preliminary data from ongoing studies suggest about one-third of newborns from mothers who test positive for drugs and alcohol go through withdrawal. About 90 percent of such pregnancies are unintended, she said.
For pregnant women with addictions, the opioid medications buprenorphine, naloxone or methadone are often prescribed, because some data show a 75 percent relapse rate among women who instead simply try to quit drugs, Leonard said.
A study at WVU and three other hospitals showed their approach, which also included having a recovery coach available constantly by cell phone, helped reduce the number of women who tested positive for other drugs and alcohol from about 80 percent in the first trimester to 21 percent at delivery, she said.
"It's not a moral failure," Leonard said of addiction. "It's a disease process."