Addiction touches the lives of nearly every family. Our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and spouses are all at risk of addiction, as are our friends and coworkers. Tens of thousands of Americans die each year of overdoses and other fatalities related to opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, and new designer drugs. Countless hours are wasted in the pursuit and use of drugs. Millions of American families suffer the trauma and devastation of addiction.
Although all of America faces these issues, the deeply rooted and historically disposed communities of Louisiana are disproportionately vulnerable to addiction. This is why we have formed the Louisiana Addiction Research Center (LARC) at LSU Health Shreveport (LSUHS). The driving force behind this Center is to work in partnership with the community to help to restore dignity, meaning, and purpose to the lives of those suffering from addiction. We are here to listen to and learn from the community as we assist in making the positive changes that we firmly believe must and can happen. LARC is not a treatment center rather it is a group of research and clinical professionals committed to engaging in addiction research and in providing addiction education. Such research and education will ultimately lead to more effective and more compassionate care for people suffering from addiction. Currently the LARC is engaged in several research projects at LSU Health Shreveport, one of only 154 academic medical centers in the United States.
Assessing the Impact of Coronavirus on Drug Addiction
LARC researchers are currently assessing the impact of COVID-19 on addiction. The effects of this pandemic are being felt most acutely in communities of low socioeconomic means, communities of color, inner city communities, and rural underserved communities. Communities that are also particularly susceptible to addiction. This coronavirus may have long-lasting impacts on the brain, the heart, and other organs, even when patients survive the pulmonary complications. Potential damage to the brain may compound health disparities in vulnerable populations and may increase the risk of addiction. These studies may identify biological changes that occur following exposure to coronavirus, and the findings may produce new strategies to mitigate and reverse coronavirus enhanced susceptibilities to addiction.
Collaborating with the LSU Health Shreveport Center for Cardiovascular Diseases and Sciences (CCDS)
The LARC works in partnership with the many centers of excellence at LSU Health Shreveport to develop solutions to improve human health. An ongoing project with the Cardiovascular Center for Diseases and Sciences is built upon a well-established knowledge base, some of which was generated at LSU Health Shreveport, that methamphetamine can produce marked damage to the heart and vasculature, inducing scarring of the heart and blood vessels, irregular heartbeats, and potentially heart failure. The LARC and CCDS are working together to understand the processes through which this damage occurs to identify new targets for preventing or reversing this damage. A new study starting soon will determine whether methamphetamine taken in combination with opioids such as heroin (colloquially known as a “speedball”) produce even more severe damage to the heart and blood vessels than methamphetamine alone.
Collaborating with the LSU Health Shreveport Center for Brain Health (CBH)
LARC researchers are also working in collaboration with the Center for Brain Health to determine the impact of coronavirus on the brain using the sophisticated facilities for assessing the immune system and the brain available at LSU Health Shreveport. Another study proposes to develop new medications and non-pharmacological interventions for pain to minimize the use of opioids. This study will be conducted with CBH as well as the LSUHS School of Allied Health Professions. Other research is using neuroimaging to create a database of the healthy human brain to identify changes in the addicted brain and develop new medications and other treatments for addiction.
Monitoring Changes in Substance Use Patterns
The LARC is initiating a new partnership with the North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory and the Department of Emergency Medicine at LSU Health Shreveport. This partnership uses community-based sampling to monitor trends in the patterns of use of illicit drugs in our community and throughout Louisiana. For example, many drugs of abuse come from international producers to reach the United States, but the coronavirus has disrupted global supply chains, suggesting that locally produced drugs may now be more prevalent in our community. The LARC is working to monitor these patterns for the implementation of more compassionate interventions to protect the community as well as individuals suffering from addiction.
Partnering with the Community
Research involving community partners such as the Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse of NWLA (CADA) will identify new and optimal models of care for addiction. We are also working to educate and train providers in our community about addictive behaviors. The LARC recently hosted an “Ask-the-Experts” question and answer session to continue our dialog with the community. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to listen and learn from the community.
The Louisiana Addiction Research Center is here to serve north Louisiana as well as the entire state. You and your loved ones are not alone in facing addiction.