It is now generally accepted philosophy in the addiction treatment community that customized treatment plans that address each patient’s individual substance abuse history are crucial for success. A new study from researchers at Yale University may now be taking this philosophy one step further through exploration of gene variants to treat opioid addiction patients. Led by Yale student Andrew H. Smith, the study was funded largely by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and shed some interesting light on the role of genetics in the continued innovation of treatment for chemical dependency. It was published on January 24th in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The main breakthrough of the study was the identification of a genetic variant that may assist in personalizing care for opioid addiction. The variant helped identify African-American patients discover what doses of methadone were ideal for their continued maintenance therapy. The same variant was also shown by the investigators to predict the morphine dose needed to achieve effective pain control in a population of African- American children undergoing surgery. No such effect was found among subjects of European ancestry who underwent methadone treatment. Study authors say the findings may enable doctors to more quickly and effective identify patients who need higher doses of methadone to maintain their recovery.
By itself, the variant could be used as a biomarker, helping tailor treatment for African-Americans with an opioid use disorder. Although the specific gene effects were confined to those with African ancestry, it may unlock a whole new world of possibilities for the study of gene-specific addiction treatment. As this sort of study increases and is further refined, researchers and clinicians may find more and more genetic markers to create more targeted treatment, improving outcomes and long-term abstinence rates. In a climate in which tens of thousands are dying from substance abuse each year, discoveries like this are a welcome development.
Last year saw higher-than-ever rates of drug overdose in the United States. With a nation in limbo regarding the future of treatment access and more and more people dying every day, the funding of research has never been more crucial to address the complex and multifaceted disease of addiction. Studies like the aforementioned Yale project keep the population thinking about ways to address this urgent and deadly public health issue. In other words, the sprit of the research may be just as important as its actual findings.