Posted tagged ‘addiction’

On addiction, psychiatric disorders and primary care: A Q&A with a Stanford clinical psychologist

April 6, 2017

Photo by Eric Norris

Resolving America’s opioid crisis is clearly more difficult than just saying “no” to opioid use.

A key complication is that many opioid addicts also have mental health issues, said Mark McGovern, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences who joined Stanford in January. McGovern’s research focuses on patients with both psychiatric and addiction disorders. I connected with him via email.

What inspired you to focus on patients with both psychiatric and substance use disorders?

“In my personal experience and clinical practice, it seemed obvious that many people who had a problem with alcohol or drugs also had a mental health issue, whether it was depression, anxiety or something else. When I entered the world of research, the epidemiological and clinical prevalence data verified my anecdotal experience. About 70 percent of patients with a diagnosis of a drug or alcohol disorder have another psychiatric disorder. And of those with a psychiatric disorder, approximately 50 percent have had a substance use problem at some point. Ironically, our mental health care system, including our education and training programs, are organized as if people have one or the other problem but not both. It turns out that if a person has both types of disorders, their life outcomes are significantly worse. This struck me as an enormous health-care disparity.”

How do you treat these patients?

“I spent the past 20 years designing interventions that address these ‘co-occurring disorders’ within the same treatment course. We worked with systems of care — including large organizations, counties, states, tribes and nations — to reconfigure services to provide integrated care. These efforts included the use of both psychotropic and addiction medications, integrated combined therapies, and changes in attitude, philosophy, organizational structure and financing.

We need to address these behavioral health issues in both primary care and specialty settings.

Common problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use disorders are ubiquitous in primary care settings. As with any medical condition, early intervention before disease progression results in better outcomes. Further, most people with these conditions don’t seek specialty care, but typically do see their doctor for other problems or routine health-care visits. Unfortunately, substance use disorders typically aren’t screened for in primary care, and they are currently addressed in only the most obvious and severe cases. People at Stanford are just beginning to develop an innovative ‘unified model of behavioral health integration’ that fully addresses the complex array of behavioral health conditions.”

How do you use addiction medications?

“Before I arrived at Stanford, I was at Dartmouth where I consulted with the states of northern New England — Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — to combat the opioid addiction epidemic, including heroin and prescription narcotics. There are three FDA-approved medications for opioid addiction: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Unfortunately, even though they are very effective, these medicines are not widely available to people with opioid addiction. We worked most closely with physician practice groups across Vermont to prescribe buprenorphine and naltrexone and deliver high quality care. For example, we used learning collaboratives to engage physicians, improve access to buprenorphine and reduce the variability between different doctors. Overdose death rates in all New England states except Vermont have continued to rise, whereas Vermont’s has decreased since 2015. And the number of Vermonters receiving addiction medications has grown from 800 in 2013 to close to 5000 today.

I remember meeting my patient Bobby (a pseudonym) who was a general contractor with a successful business. He injured his back in 2004 and was prescribed Percocet for pain by his primary care physician. Gradually, he noticed that he needed more medication to get the same pain relief, emotional relief and stress reduction. Over time, Bobby shuffled from doctor to doctor to obtain opioid prescriptions allegedly for his family members. He transitioned to heroin by 2006. Prior to his opioid addiction, Bobby had no history of illegal activities and no substance problem. Bobby’s wife did some online research and learned about addiction medications. They were both drawn to the possibility of buprenorphine because he might be able to get it from a ‘regular doctor’ without going to rehab and ruining his business. Bobby was seen in our clinic and responded extremely well to the medication, and discontinued his use of other opioids. Interestingly, he said that he still had occasional pain but it was more important to be ‘functional than pain free.’”

What advice do you give to trainees?

“When educating medical students, psychiatric residents and fellows and clinical psychology interns at Stanford, I advise them to:

  • Understand addiction as a chronic medical condition that has its basis in the brain, even though its manifestations radiate across the person’s life, relationships and world.
  • Empathize with the person who is suffering with this condition, who may not be able to accept or describe it clearly, but who is nonetheless struggling to control It’s not their choice; it is not their ‘Plan A’ in life.
  • Know that effective treatments are available, and that you can provide them.
  • Have high hopes that recovery is possible for patients with addiction.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Saliva tests may help identify marijuana-impaired drivers

November 22, 2016
Photo by ashton

Photo by ashton

As of the recent election, seven states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana for recreational use and 19 other states have legalized medical marijuana. And this legalization has raised concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana.

A number of research groups are now focusing on ways to identify drivers impaired by marijuana. As recently reported by KQED, the Center of Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, are working to “gather data about dosages, time and what it takes to impair driving ability — and then create a viable roadside sobriety test for cannabis.” And a group of Stanford engineers have created a test called a ‘potalyzer.’

The Stanford effort was led by Shan Wang, PhD, a Stanford professor of materials science and engineering and of electrical engineering. He and his colleagues developed a mobile device that detects the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecules in saliva. (THC is the main psychoactive agent in marijuana.)

The test would allow police officers to collect a saliva sample from the driver’s mouth with a cotton swab, analyze it with the new device, and then read the results on a smartphone or laptop in as little as three minutes.

The technology combines magnetic nanotechnology with a competitive immunoassay. During the test, saliva is mixed with antibodies that bind to both THC molecules and magnetic nanoparticles. The mixture is placed on a disposable test chip, inserted into the handheld device and the THC-antibody-nanoparticles are detected by magnetic biosensors. The biosensor signal is then displayed on a Bluetooth-enabled device.

Wang’s group focused on developing a THC saliva test because it is less invasive and may correlate better with impairment than THC urine or blood tests. Also key is the need for a very sensitive test. A Stanford news release explains:

“Wang’s device can detect concentrations of THC in the range of 0 to 50 nanograms per milliliter of saliva. While there’s no consensus on how much THC in a driver’s system is too much, previous studies have suggested a cutoff between 2 and 25 ng/ml, well within the capability of Wang’s device.”

There is still a lot to do before police can deploy this ‘potalyzer’ device, including making it more user-friendly, getting it approved by regulators and investigating whether there is a better biomarker to detect marijuana impairment than THC. In addition, the test may not work well for THC edibles, the researchers wrote in a recent paper published in Analytical Chemistry.

On the upside, the Stanford technology could also be used to test for morphine, heroin, cocaine or other drugs — and for multiple drugs at the same time.

More research is needed, but there is now a new funding source in California: Proposition 64 allots millions of dollars per year to research marijuana and develop ways to identify impaired drivers.

This is an expanded version of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Stanford scientists uncover new approach to reduce opiate withdrawal

February 11, 2016
Photo by geralt

Photo by geralt

Opiates produce a sense of euphoria that is highly addictive. If addicts stop taking the drugs, they are faced with opiate withdrawal, which can feel like the worst imaginable stomach flu with symptoms that include muscle aches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a runny nose.

Stanford researchers have identified and suppressed the neural pathway responsible for theses withdrawal symptoms in opiate-addicted mice, as reported in Nature.

Xiaoke Chen, PhD, the lead investigator and an assistant professor of biology, explains in a news release:

Most research that studies drug addiction is focused on the reward pathway because that is the reason you start to take drugs, but people who really get addicted also take drugs to get rid of the withdrawal effect. This is especially important in opiate addiction.

Chen’s team studied the nucleus accumbens, a group of neurons that plays a key role in addiction through its response to both rewarding and aversive stimuli. They used fluorescent proteins to identify a clear link between the nucleus accumben and another brain center associated with drug-seeking behavior called the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT).

Next, the researchers used optogenetics to turn neurons in this nucleus accumben-PVT pathway off, by introducing light-sensitive molecules and then hitting them with light from an optical fiber. The news release explains:

Using optogenetic tools, the scientists were then able to revert the pathway to its original strength, effectively erasing the effects of the drug. Although the research was conducted in mice, Chen said that it suggests that reprogramming the circuit holds promise for treating opiate addiction in humans.

Chen’s research may guide the development of treatments for many people with exaggerated aversive response to stimuli, including those with drug addiction, anxiety and depression.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.


%d bloggers like this: