Brain function a key to addiction treatments

Neuroscience research should be informing drug addiction treatment and policy in Australia, according to Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the WHO report, substance dependence is as much a disorder of the brain as any other neurological or psychiatric disorder and an explosion of advances in neuroscience is providing new ways of diagnosing and treating the condition.

WHO representatives will join international and Australian neuroscientists at the Addictions 2004 conference near Brisbane this month, to focus on the latest research in this area.

Conference Chair Professor David Kavanagh of The University of Queensland said the event aimed to share the work of neuroscience researchers with health practitioners and policy makers.

“Recently there have been some exciting advances in our understanding of addiction and how it can be treated,” Professor Kavanagh said.

“We now know a lot more about the brain’s role in addiction, thanks to research in a range of fields. This includes everything from genetics and biochemical processes to the brain’s relationship to the psychology of addiction.

“ Increasingly, we are exploring the complex ethical issues raised by these scientific advances.”

Professor Kavanagh said the conference would help develop the relationship between researchers and practitioners.

“In the long term, we believe this can have a positive flow on effect for the many thousands of people suffering from drug dependence in Australia,” he said.

In 1992, the estimated health care cost of drug dependence and harmful drug use in Australia was over $1 billion. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recently estimated that in 1998, 17,671 deaths and 185,558 hospital episodes were related to drug use.

The conference will include the launch of the WHO report, which summarises the latest scientific knowledge on the role of the brain in substance dependence in the WHO Western Pacific region.

The conference will be held from September 25 to 27 at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort, Noosa, Queensland, Australia.

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