Curing Our Addiction
One of the most promising market opportunities for the neurotechnology industry lies with addiction-related disorders. In recent years, researchers and clinicians have made progress on two fronts: identifying the neural basis for addiction, and introducing potential neuromodulation therapies to treat addiction. And as we discussed in this space recently, neuromodulation therapies to treat chronic pain can help circumvent the rampant opioid addiction problem thrust upon us by the pharmaceutical industry. What remains is for the government to recognize the relative value of money spent on addiction research compared to what we spend on drug enforcement and criminalization.
Earlier this month, researchers from Japan and Canada reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the lateral and orbital regions of the frontal cortex interact during the response to a drug-related cue and that aberrant interaction between the two frontal regions may underlie addiction. “This research uncovers the brain circuitry responsible for self-control during reward-seeking choices. It is also consistent with the view that drug addiction is a pathology of decision making,” said Alain Dagher, a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and one of the authors of the study.
Also this month, a team of German researchers reported in the journal Molecular Psychiatry that deep-brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens led to sustained abstinence from heroin in two patients who were resistant to other therapies to treat their addiction. One patient was observed for more than 24 months while the other was observed for more than 12 months. The patients are part of a clinical trial at the University of Cologne.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funds much of the research on addiction causes and treatments in the U.S., has an annual budget of just over $1 billion. Although funding levels were flat from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, the number of project grants declined by 89 and $30 million. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, on the other hand has a budget that is more than double that of NIDA. When you factor in federal funds spent on drug enforcement by the FBI, ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service, plus the billions spent at the state and local levels each year, our nation’s misplaced priority on drug enforcement as opposed to addiction research represents a ratio of more than 10 to 1. Surely in a time such as this when the Congress is seeking to cut budgets and reduce deficits, this offers an opportunity to save taxpayers money while addressing a serious national problem more effectively and intelligently.
We could easily double funding for NIDA and still save taxpayers billions of dollars by bringing enforcement spending closer to parity.
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