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June 12, 2012

Medication can help recovering meth addicts stay sober, study finds

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A drug shown to help break alcohol addiction can also help recovering methamphetamine addicts stay clean, a study led by University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher Bankole A. Johnson has found.

The randomized trial, conducted at UVA and seven other sites around the country, evaluated 140 methamphetamine addicts to determine the effectiveness of the drug topiramate in treating their addiction. Participants were given either topiramate or a placebo. The study found that while topiramate does not eliminate meth addiction, it can reduce the amount of meth taken and reduce relapse rates in those who have quit.

“Once a person stops, even for a few days, [topiramate] significantly increases their chances for not relapsing,” says Johnson, DSc, MD, the study’s principal investigator. “That’s very important, because relapse prevention is an important component of addiction medicine. We try to get people drug-free, and then we want to give them something to take away with them to maintain that drug-free status. So this is one way in which that can be done.”

Medicine as addiction treatment

Johnson, a pioneer in addiction research, first explored the theory that medications could treat addictions more than two decades ago. That idea, met with skepticism at first, has since transformed how many scientists think about addiction’s relationship with the workings of the brain.

Successful alcoholism treatment

In a previous clinical trial, Johnson and his team successfully treated alcoholism by using topiramate to block the brain’s dopamine pathways. The study found that the drug not only reduced heavy drinking but diminished the physical and psychosocial harm caused by alcoholism.

“Our goal is to try and develop medicines to treat addiction,” Johnson says. “We’ve had a lot of success with alcohol treatments, less so with stimulants. So this [methamphetamine study] is the first time we’re beginning to find drugs that actually help .”

Johnson’s new findings on topiramate’s effect on meth addiction are being published in the July issue of the journal Addiction . He plans to explore topiramate’s effect on meth addiction further in a larger study.

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