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Using science to combat addiction

June 22, 2017

In this Policy Forum, Keith Humphreys and colleagues highlight the need for science, and particularly neuroscience, to inform policies that address addiction. Their recommendations are timely given that on 27 June, a U.S. presidential task force is slated to present policy recommendations to combat opioid addiction. On average in the U.S., 91 people per day die of opioid overdose. Over the course of recent history, technological advances have enabled addictions to become more prevalent and overpowering, the authors say. For example, in the mid-nineteenth century it took a factory worker about one minute to roll a cigarette, and the resulting product was so harsh that few people could inhale it deeply enough to become addicted to nicotine. Now, in one minute a machine can roll 20,000 cigarettes, which are sweetened and blended to allow deep inhalation that promotes nicotine addiction. Although technological advances have contributed to increasing rates of addictions, science can also be used to counteract addictions. Humphreys et al. cite ways in which science can inform better drug regulation, for example in the context of marijuana. As well, they note that drug addiction creates long-term changes to motivational, reward and decision-making circuits in the brain - programs that address these changes, such as South Dakota's "24/7 Sobriety" program, have shown some success. For neuroscience to make an impact on public policy, an active education and translation effort must occur, the authors conclude.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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