Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., of the Health Science Center, chaired a national conference Sept. 19 and 20 at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at Research Triangle Park, N.C. The conference focused on the links between two interesting topics: chemical intolerance and drug and alcohol abuse.
The meeting addressed potential underlying environmental causes for both conditions. Presenters included experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Florida, Arizona, Washington, Texas, North Carolina and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The NIEHS and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), two branches of the National Institutes of Health, were the conference hosts.
The meeting was especially timely in the wake of the current crisis on the Gulf Coast, Dr. Miller said. “With Hurricane Katrina – the mold, cleaning agents, petrochemicals, pesticides and related exposures – we need to be prepared for the possibility of a second ‘Gulf War syndrome,’ this time in the Gulf of Mexico,” she said. “At the meeting, we discussed health effects of exposures like these in susceptible individuals.”
No other conference has looked at the issues of chemical intolerance and drug and alcohol abuse side by side, Dr. Miller said. This was the first conference to be co-sponsored by the NIEHS and NIAAA.
“We are finding striking similarities between substance abuse and chemical intolerance,” Dr. Miller said. “This conference convened the best minds to examine the parallels and explore new approaches to research.”
Dr. Miller helped construct a new theory, “Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance” or TILT. Although chemical intolerance causes individuals to avoid exposure to toxic substances, alcoholism and drug abuse cause individuals to seek repeated exposure. Both groups report experiencing withdrawal symptoms when triggering exposures or drugs are avoided.
Dr. Miller is professor and vice chair of the department of family and community medicine at the Health Science Center, director of the South Texas Environmental Education and Research (STEER) border health education program offered in Laredo, and medical director of the Environmental Health and Medicine Educational Initiative at the Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Center campus in Harlingen.