Rachel Sohn, a super senior at Rutgers-Camden majoring in Biology, recently gave a presentation at Rutgers that studies new medicines that could help prevent relapse for recovering addicts. These medicines can also alleviate the pain for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Addiction has been a controversial topic that is beginning to cause major fatalities in the city of Camden, now more than ever. There is a debate arguing if addiction is a choice or a legitimate disease. “Opiod dependency has become a nationwide epidemic that has no effective treatment at the current time and relapse is a common occurrence that is often lethal,” Sohn states. Sohn’s presentation studied the specific effects opiates have on an individual’s brain.
Her presentation showed that drugs produce a pleasurable effect signaling to the brain to acquire more drugs to attempt to achieve the same pleasurable effect. Opiates begin this vicious cycle by increasing a person’s dopamine levels. An increase in the dopamine triggers the brain to release a happy feeling, or a reward. Drugs produce an abnormally high level of dopamine. The level is so high that events like getting arrested or overdosing cannot produce an unpleasant reaction. Rachel Sohn’s question was, “How can we disrupt this in order to take away the positive memory?”
Individuals suffering from PTSD have a similar experience as a direct result of their trauma. PTSD produces activity in the frontal lobe of the brain putting the person in a constant state of anxiety, also known as fight or flight.
Sohn’s study suggests that the blood pressure medicine, Propranolol and Clonidine could work to disrupt the cycle of addiction and help rebuild traumatic memories. Sohn’s theory that “memory is like play doe,” means that people have the ability to go back and edit a memory. “Triggering memories are often the cause of relapse for those who are addicted. By altering these specific memories, relapse could be prevented and thus long term recovery could be achieved,” says Sohn.
In a recent study, patients with PTSD were given Propranolol once a week and waited ninety minutes for it to have an effect and then vividly described details of traumatic events they encountered. After the six week study was finished, patients “reported a better quality of life and minimal to no symptoms of PTSD.” The study is very similar to therapy known as brain spotting which already exists in some drug treatment centers like Seabrook House located in South Jersey.
In a pre-clinical trial, rats were given the drug Clonidine to measure their fear. It appeared that after they received the Clonidine, they no longer experienced the same fear. The rats seemed to have a significantly less amount of anxiety.
Sohn hopes to get her Masters in Biology from Rutgers University and continue to get a PhD in Neurobiology so that she can further her research.