Compassion + Science: Addiction research at Penn State College of Medicine

HERSHEY, Pa. — The conversation always starts:  “My son ... ", "My daughter ... ”, “My grandchild ... has a drug problem.”

And for years, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine have been trying to solve a yearning question from people whose hearts are breaking:

“Why can’t they stop?”

But research now underway may finally unveil an answer — and some hope.

Behind all of the science that goes on in sterile campus laboratories — behind the studies of rats and brain cells and clinical findings — is an understanding which many people, including those struggling with drug use, don’t always see: Addiction to opioids alters a person’s brain chemistry, robbing them of the ability to make free-will decisions, says Dr. Sue Grigson, professor of neural and behavioral sciences.

Knowing this may allow clinicians, doctors, therapists and even family members to re-tool treatment options so that people with addictions can break a life-ending cycle. Pennsylvania, which is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, needs new treatment options now more than ever, Grigson says.

“We’re very concerned about the opioid epidemic. We’re losing 10 people a day in Pennsylvania to drug overdose. And it’s expected that number will increase to 13 within the next year or two,” Grigson says.

Researchers will present study findings at the Third Annual Penn State Addiction Symposium on April 4, hosted by the Penn State Addiction Center for Translation (PS ACT) and supported by a grant from the Penn State Neuroscience Institute. About 140 physicians, scientists, students, post-doctoral fellows, directors from neighboring treatment centers and community members are expected to attend. Grigson is the symposium chair and also director of PS ACT.

Learn more about the symposium — and the broader topic of addiction — in this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated March 23, 2017