SAN ANTONIO (July 2, 2008)—An estimated 20,000-plus people in San Antonio who use cocaine each year initially feel a heightened sense of reward or pleasure with the illegal stimulant. That is because cocaine increases the release of dopamine, the chemical most responsible for the feeling of reward in the brain. However, soon the cocaine-induced high becomes a cruel addiction that hurts users and their families and friends.
Although many research studies have sought to identify medications to treat cocaine dependence, none have been shown to be effective. Even though counseling and psychological therapies have some benefit, most users never receive treatment.
John D. Roache, Ph.D., and Christopher L. Wallace, M.D., at the Behavioral Wellness (Be Well) Center, part of the Department of Psychiatry at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, are conducting two investigational studies of a medication called vigabatrin. Vigabatrin is an existing agent used to treat epilepsy in Europe but has never been approved in the United States.
Vigabatrin acts by increasing the availability of another chemical, GABA, which is thought to dampen cocaine’s rewarding, and thus addictive, effects. “Research in animals, as well as two open-label (non-blinded) clinical trials and one placebo-controlled study conducted in Mexico, have been very promising,” Dr. Roache, principal investigator of these studies, said.
One reason vigabatrin has not been approved in the U.S. as an antiepileptic is that visual field impairments occur in about a third of patients taking the drug for more than one year. However, “there is good reason to expect that shorter courses of treatment for several months could establish cocaine abstinence without this side effect seen with longer-term courses of treatment,” Dr. Roache said.
Cocaine-dependent individuals are encouraged to join these confidential, non-judgmental research studies offered by the Be Well Center. One study is strictly research and requires hospitalization though it does not provide any treatment. A second study provides medication and psychological therapy during a 12-week outpatient treatment phase. Both studies are randomized, which means volunteers are randomly assigned to receive either the vigabatrin or an inactive placebo.
Volunteers for these studies will receive free health screening at the Be Well Center and eligible participants will receive full ophthalmologic evaluations free of charge.
For more information, call the Be Well Center at (210) 562-5400.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.