Tuesday, May 1, 2012

60 Minutes: The Science of Addiction

60 Minutes did an excellent piece on Dr. Nora Volkow and her work on the science of addiction entitled "Hooked: Why bad habits are hard to break."  I was on Twitter Sunday evening pumping out my favorite quotes from the piece (@PRIUM1 if you're interested in my 140 character musings), but here's a quick recap of the highlights:

Dr. Volkow pointed out that there were 210 million prescriptions written for opioids last year.  Morley Safer added that this was enough to medicate every adult in the US around the clock for a month.

This led Dr. Volkow to comment, "Being honest, I think that many physicians have not been properly trained on how to prescribe opiate medications.  Either we're a nation in severe pain or we're overprescribing." 

She's being diplomatic, of course.  We're overprescribing. 

The piece is more than just a recap of the statistics we all know, however.  Dr. Volkow's work is helping us understand the brain chemistry behind addiction and why "just saying no" is an unrealistic option.  She explores the role of dopamine in not only creating addiction, but fueling it.  If you've ever wondered exactly how tolerance to opioids develops (i.e., why your claimants require ever higher dosage levels to achieve the same pain relief), she's developing the biological answer to that question. 

And in a weird twist to the story for you Russian history buffs, Dr. Volkow happens to be the great grand daugher of Leon Trotsky, the great political rival of Joseph Stalin who was assassinated on Stalin's orders while living in exile.  Obviously, this has little to do with her work, but 60 Minutes couldn't resist...

On Twitter @PRIUM1

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