How a pioneering brain surgery helped a man who’d been addicted to opioids for 18 years find sobriety


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Gerod Buckhalter believes a pioneering brain surgery is his last hope to overcoming his addiction to opioids.

Doctors will insert a long string of metal into his brain to control his cravings. The wire will go in the part of the brain involved in addiction and receive signals from a pacemaker in his chest.

Buckhalter is the first patient in a clinical trial at West Virginia University. If successful, doctors hope it could be rolled out more widely, and put a dent in the opioid epidemic that claims about 128 American lives per day.

Source: WV Today, CDC

The surgery comes with risks of infection, bleeding, and memory problems. Buckhalter only qualified for this procedure because he had tried everything else to get sober.

The procedure, known as deep brain stimulation, has been around for 30 years, and is used to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, tremors, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and epilepsy. But this is the first time doctors are using it to treat addiction.

For 18 years, Buckhalter was high on painkillers and heroin all the time. He tried all kinds of opioid addiction treatments like Suboxone, meetings, rehab, and therapy, but he always came back around to the drugs. “I would get my drugs and I wouldn’t leave my bedroom,” he said.

For the native of Dilliner, Pennsylvania, it all started in high school, when he dislocated his shoulder playing football and had to get surgery. He was prescribed oxycodone pills, and he “probably got them a little longer than I should have,” he said. “Right off the jump I was addicted to them.”

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The opioid was first mass-produced by Purdue Pharma in 1996. With an aggressive marketing campaign, sales grew from $48 million to more than $1 billion in just four years.

Along with its generic forms, OxyContin was heavily prescribed for all kinds of bodily pain. By 2004, it had become a leading drug of abuse in the United States.

Source: NCBI

Buckhalter remembers the first time he took one. “I felt like I arrived,” he said. “I was able to socialize so much easier. Everything that was a little difficult became very easy and I loved that.” He added, “It gave me a feeling that nothing in this world could ever come close to. Just so numb and just so good.”

Soon, Buckhalter was taking a month’s worth of OxyContin — 120 30-milligram pills — in about five days. “Quite frankly, I didn’t care if I died,” he said.

Gerod’s addiction became a lifestyle that followed him into adulthood. At one point, most of his salary went to buying pills, until he lost his job and couldn’t afford them anymore.

“We started dabbling in heroin because it was cheaper and better,” he said. “Then things really went downhill.”

Buckhalter’s mother, Gina, recalled a …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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