At a hearing on Capitol Hill earlier this year, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander asked an important question: Why are most of the treatment for opioid addiction more opioids?
In response, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, did their best to assure the senator – and thus the nation – that scientists are hard at work developing treatments for addicts that are not just more of the same.
Hacking the Human Brain
The hopeful news regarding the opioid crisis is that scientists are searching for promising targets in developing non-opioid treatments for addiction. For example, this year a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted to approve the high blood pressure medicine lofexidine as the first non-opioid medication to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Earlier this year, the NIH launched an initiative called Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) that takes an important step forward in doing just that. It funds research into potential new treatments aimed at the brain reward pathway – the regions of the brain where neurons release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives you a jolt of pleasure, makes you feel good and signals you to repeat this pleasurable behavior in the future.
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