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Thanks to a $472,500 grant, courtesy of the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Drug Abuse, Florida state researchers may very well have the means by which to finally curtail rampant use and abuse of prescription drugs such as oxycodone, as well as more illicit substances such as heroin, by individuals. The study is a welcome affront to an issue that continues to plague our hospitals, our homes, and even (quite literally) our hearts.

Which brings us to one of the more central aspects of the study itself: a generation of babies whose brains have essentially been rewired because their mothers were abusing drugs leading up to the birth, will be the central focus. 2011 saw instances reaching into the thousands of Floridian babies being born with withdrawal symptoms (six times more than five years prior) as a result of “pill mills”—the term reserved for doctors’ offices who were loose with their prescription pads—resulting in a thus-far ineffective task force and policy implementations.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at the time called it “the next crack baby epidemic.” According to an article via the Sun Sentinel, the ultimate goal of the current study is to determine what new therapies can be developed to mitigate the effects of this drug-induced “rewiring”. It’s been difficult, especially since many of the abusing mothers often turned to heroin on the black market in the wake of the state’s crackdown on “prescribed” painkillers and other inordinate narcotics.

The method is simple—paralleling the high number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms, researchers from the Scripps School of Medicine will “expose lab mice to oxycodone during pregnancy, then observe the behavior of the baby mice into adulthood. Addiction in utero can lead to problems with impulse control, a greater incidence of schizophrenia and ADHD, and a higher likelihood of addiction later in life, researchers have found.”

Once researchers find the electrical impulses that affect these aspects of behavior, they can take the next step towards figuring out how to minimize and “untangle” the damage caused by substance abuse, not only in utero, but abuse later in life as well.

According to Scripps associate professor and principal investigator over the two year study Courtney Miller, another possibility outside of developmental medicinal therapy intervention would be deep-brain stimulation. This neurosurgical procedure involves the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses, via implanted electrodes, to specific parts of the brain for the treatment of movement and affective disorders.

What do you think?