Can A Brain Chip Curb Opioid Addiction?

By Desiree Bowie 11/06/19

The first participant to receive the implant in the trial has battled treatment-resistant opioid and benzo addiction for over a decade. 

doctors implanting brain chip to curb opioid addiction
Surgeons performing implant procedure. photo credit: Greg Ellis

There's been a number of technological advances in addiction medicine over the past decade. Recovery-based apps, neurofeedback therapy and even virtual reality have ushered in a slew of treatment options for addiction.

Now, researchers at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and West Virginia University Medicine are conducting the first US clinical trial for a deep brain stimulation device that will target areas in the brain linked to addiction and self-control. 

According to TechCrunch, the deep brain stimulation device will "monitor cravings in real time," giving researchers critical insight into how addiction works in the brain. 

West Virginia In Crisis

The West Virginia-based organizations announced the launch of the clinical trial on Tuesday, November 5. The state, which leads the country in fatal overdose deaths, has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. 

“Our team at the RNI is working hard to find solutions to help those affected by addiction,” Dr. Ali Rezai of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute explained. “Addiction is a brain disease involving the reward centers in the brain, and we need to explore new technologies, such as the use of DBS, to help those severely impacted by opioid use disorder.” 

The trial is a small one consisting of four participants with treatment-resistant opioid addiction. Prior to this trial, the DBS device had only been tested on mice with promising results.

Deep brain stimulation is used to treat chronic pain, Parkinson's disease, treatment-resistant depression and obseessive compulsive disorder. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, (AANS) around 35,000 people have DBS implants. 

“Despite our best efforts using current, evidence-based treatment modalities, there exist a number of patients who simply don’t respond. Some of these patients remain at very high risk for ongoing catastrophic health problems and even death. DBS could prove to be a valuable tool in our fight to keep people alive and well,” said Dr. James Berry.

The first patient to receive the Medtronic DBS device in the trial was a 33-year-old man who has been battling treatment-resistant opioid and benzo addiction for over a decade. 

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Desiree Bowie is a writer and movie lover from Los Angeles, California. Follow her on Twitter @dangerbowie