Brain Implants Trialed to Combat Drug Addiction at Shanghai Hospital

By Bryan Grogan, May 9, 2019

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In Shanghai’s Ruijin Hospital, clinical trials of a treatment for drug addiction called Deep Brain Stimulation are underway to help addicts combat drugs like methamphetamine, according to a report by Associated Press

China is leading the field in studies into this form of treatment, with six of the world’s eight DBS clinical trials for drug addiction currently based in the Middle Kingdom, according to a US National Institutes of Health database quoted by Associated Press in their report. 

Deep Brain Stimulation is a process whereby a neurostimulator is implanted into the brain, sending electrical impulses through targeted areas, and which is generally used for movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome and dystonia. 

Patients have holes drilled into their skulls, through which two electrodes are pushed down to the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain which has been connected to addiction. 

The treatment costs just USD25,000 in China, a quarter of what it would cost in the United States. 

READ MORE: China Launches Fentanyl Crackdown, Adds Drug to Controlled Substances List

A patient, surnamed Yan, underwent this form of treatment. He has been addicted to methamphetamine since 2011 and tried a variety of treatments, such as Chinese traditional medicine as well as checking into a hospital for detox, before deciding to give brain surgery a try. 

China has an uncomfortable history of treating drug addiction by targeting the brain. Previously, a procedure called brain lesioning was used on heroin addicts to destroy parts of the brain tissue. 

That form of treatment was halted by the Chinese Ministry of Health in 2014, as patients experienced adverse effects from the treatment, such as altered sex drives and mood disorders.

While doctors say that Deep Brain Stimulation treatment is totally safe, there is a 2-3% risk of DBS causing brain hemorrhage, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Yan, the patient spotlighted by Associated Press, has been off drugs for six months since his treatment and appears not to have suffered any adverse effects from the treatment. 

READ MORE: Woman Busted with Crystal Meth Worth ¥360,000 at HK Border

[Cover image via Wikimedia]

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