BBC: Brain implants used to fight drug addiction in US

“Earlier this year, the UK’s Royal Society warned of the ethical dangers of merging machines and humans, and were especially concerned about the plans of technology firms such as Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink which have both announced research to develop commercial products.”

Dr Rezai and his teamDr Ali Rezai and his team performed the procedure earlier this month

Patients with severe opioid addiction are being given brain implants to help reduce their cravings, in the first trial of its kind in the US.

Gerod Buckhalter, 33, who has struggled with substance abuse for more than a decade with many relapses and overdoses, has already had the surgery.

Lead doctor Ali Rezai described the device as a “pacemaker for the brain”.

But he added it was not a consumer technology and should not be used for “augmenting humans”.

Gerod BuckhalterImage copyrightWVU MEDICINE HOSPITAL
Image captionGerod Buckhalter has struggled with addiction for years after being prescribed opioids for a football injury when he was 18

Mr Buckhalter had his operation on 1 November at the West Virginia University Medicine Hospital. Three more volunteers will also have the procedure.

It starts with a series of brain scans. Surgery follows with doctors making a small hole in the skull in order to insert a tiny 1mm electrode in the specific area of the brain that regulate impulses such as addiction and self-control.

A battery is inserted under the collarbone, and brain activity will then be remotely monitored by the team of physicians, psychologists and addiction experts to see if the cravings recede.

So-called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating a range of conditions including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder. Some 180,000 people around the world have brain implants.

X-ray of Gerod BuckhalterImage copyrightWVU MECIDINE HOSPITAL
Image captionThis X-ray shows the brain implant being inserted

This is the first time DBS has been approved for drug addiction and it has been a complex trial, involving many teams, including ethicists, psychologists and many regulators.

Over the next two years the patients will be closely monitored.

Dr Rezai told the BBC: “Addiction is complex, there are a range of social dynamics at play and genetic elements and some individuals will have a lack of access to treatments so their brains will slowly change and they will have more cravings.”

“This treatment is for those who have failed every other treatment, whether that is medicine, behavioural therapy, social interventions. It is a very rigorous trial with oversight from ethicists and regulators and many other governing bodies.”

He points to figures which suggest overdoses are the main cause of death for under-50s in the US.

“Over half of patients relapse. We need to find solutions because it is a life-threatening situation and something which impacts family and loved ones.”

Gerod Buckhalter and familyImage copyrightWVU MEDICINE HOSPITAL
Image captionMr Buckhalter with his family ahead of his operation

West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the US. In 2017 there were 49.6 such deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Royal Society warned of the ethical dangers of merging machines and humans, and were especially concerned about the plans of technology firms such as Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink which have both announced research to develop commercial products.

Neuralink has now applied to start human trials in the US, with electrodes inserted into the brains of patients with paralysis.

And Facebook is supporting research that aims to come up with a headset that can transcribe words at a rate of 100 per minute, just by thinking.

Dr Rezai is sceptical about consumer tech firms getting involved in this area.

“I think it is very good for science and we need more science to advance the field and learn more about the brain. This is not for augmenting humans and that is very important. This is not a consumer technology.”

“When it comes to applications, it needs to be heavily regulated. This is not like getting a flu shot or a tattoo. Surgery has inherent risks and is not trivial. It is only for those with chronic disease who have failed all other treatments and are without hope.”

25 from Maine, N.Y. charged in sweeping Downeast drug bust

The investigation involved more than 30 Maine drug agents, troopers, deputies, the FBI, Border Patrol, Secret Service, U.S. marshals and more.download (1).png

BANGOR, Maine — Fifteen people from Maine and 10 from New York were either arrested or charged this week as part of a major drug trafficking bust, involving a joint effort between 13 county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Maine U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency announced the arrests and charges Friday, which arose from an investigation into drugs being trafficked from New York City to Washington County and Hancock County in Maine.

Seven search warrants were executed Thursday, the U.S. attorney’s office said, resulting in the seizure of several firearms, including a sawed-off shotgun and large amounts of crack and fentanyl.

Arrested and charged Thursday by criminal complaint in federal court were the following 14 people with the charge or charges proceeding:

From Maine…

  • Vestin Drisko, 40, of Beals Island; and Renita Honea, 57, of Jonesport, with distributing crack and heroin, and maintaining a drug-involved premises
  • Chandra Hanscom, 44, of Cutler, with distributing heroin
  • Cody Look, 30, of Cutler, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Barry McCarthy, 43, of Columbia; and Ralph Sawtelle, 27, of Lubec, with maintaining a drug-involved premises
  • Robert McKenna, 48, of Indian Township, with distributing crack
  • William Smeal, 32, of Hancock, with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl

From New York…

  • Jordy Collado, 18, of New York, New York, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Miquel Angel Franco, 22, and Milo Danell Germany, 21, both of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute cocaine
  • Cinque Grasette, 42, of New York, New York, with distributing crack and heroin
  • Mujahedeen Hasan, 28, of Bronx, New York, with distributing crack
  • Julian Lloyd, 24, of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl

Kevin Leroy Barner, 53, of Bronx, New York, was arrested Thursday after having been charged by indictment March 28 with possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack.

RELATED: 2 New Yorkers charged with arson, selling heroin in Richmond

Additionally, charged Friday by criminal complaint in federal court were the following three people with the charge or charges proceeding:

  • Christopher Cruz, 30, and Christopher Martinez, 29, both of Bronx, New York, with possession with intent to distribute crack
  • Timothy Cates, 40, of Cutler, Maine, with maintaining a drug-involved premises

If convicted, Barner faces between five and 40 years in prison and up to a $5,000,000 fine.

Drisko, Honea, Hanscom, Look, McKenna, Smeal, Collado, Franco, Germany, Grasette, Hasan, Lloyd, Cruz and Martinez face up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine for the drug trafficking charges.

Drisko, Honea, McCarthy, Sawtelle and Cates face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the maintaining a drug-involved premises charges.

Part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program, the investigation included: the MDEA; Maine State Police; FBI; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Marshals Service; and Maine Marine Patrol.

The MDEA separately announced Friday that it had charged seven people — six from Maine and one from New York — with drug trafficking, as part of the aforementioned investigation involving more than 30 MDEA agents:

From Maine…

  • Jessica Dana, 36, of Indian Township; and Rachel Dwyer, 46, of Lubec, with unlawful trafficking crack
  • Amber Douglas, 24, of Lubec, with unlawful trafficking heroin
  • Wayne Dube, 43, of Jonesport; William Gatcomb, 49, of Sullivan; and John Moholland, 50, of Princeton, with aggravated trafficking crack

From New York…

  • Craig Price, 29, of New York, New York, with unlawful trafficking heroin/crack

Cates, who was also charged in federal court, was charged separately by Maine drug agents with unlawful possession of fentanyl.

Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor convicted in US opioid case

John Kapoor

The founder of Insys Therapeutics John Kapoor has become the first pharmaceutical boss to be convicted in a case linked to the US opioid crisis.

A Boston jury found Kapoor and four colleagues conspired to bribe doctors to prescribe addictive painkillers, often to patients who didn’t need them.

The former billionaire was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy for his role in a scheme which also misled insurers.

Tens of thousands of deaths have been caused by opioid overdoses in the US.

Indian-born Kapoor founded drugmaker Insys Therapeutics in 1990 and built it into a multi-billion dollar company.

The jury found Kapoor had also misled medical insurance companies about patients’ need for the painkillers in order to boost sales of the firm’s fentanyl spray, Subsys.

The court heard that Kapoor – who was arrested in 2017 on the same day President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “national emergency” – ran a scheme that paid bribes to doctors to speak at fake marketing events to promote Subsys.

During the 10-week trial, jurors were also shown a rap video made by Insys for its employees on ways to boost sales of Subsys.

Kapoor and his co-defendants – Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan – face up to 20 years in prison.

A statement from Kapoor’s lawyer said he was “disappointed” with the verdict. The men had denied the charges and have indicated that they plan to appeal.

Forbes listed Kapoor’s net worth as $1.8bn (£1.4bn) in 2018, before dropping off the publication’s billionaire rankings this year.

His conviction marks a victory for US government efforts to target companies seen to have accelerated the opioid crisis.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said that opioids – a class of drug which includes everything from heroin to legal painkillers – were involved in almost 48,000 deaths in 2017.

The epidemic started with legally prescribed painkillers, including Percocet and OxyContin. It intensified as these were diverted to the black market.

There has also been a sharp rise in the use of illegal opioids including heroin, while many street drugs are laced with powerful opioids such as Fentanyl, increasing the risk of an overdose.

South Portland man, Lawz Lepenn arrested after police seize over 550 grams of cocaine, $15,000 from apartment

Lawz Lepenn, 37, formerly of Massachusetts, was arrested and charged with possession and trafficking of drugs, unlawful possession of a firearm, and probation violence.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A man was arrested in South Portland Thursday night after the Southern Maine Regional SWAT team searched his apartment.

Around 8:30 p.m., agents entered the apartment at 113 MacArthur Circle in South Portland’s Redbank Village Apartments.

Their high risk search warrant was part of an ongoing drug investigation being conducted by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

During their search, agents found and seized 554.8 grams of cocaine, 1.8 grams of cocaine base, several suboxone strips, a .25 caliber handgun and ammunition, and over $15,000 in cash.

As a result of the investigation and search, Lawz Lepenn, 37, formerly of Massachusetts, was arrested and charged with possession and trafficking of drugs, unlawful possession of a firearm, and probation violence.

Lepenn was previously convicted for aggravated attempted murder in Massachusetts.

Lepenn is being held at the Cumberland County Jail on a $15,000 bail for the new criminal charges. There is no bail on the probation charge.

Maine: Jon Ladd, 36, of Medway charged with drug trafficking in Orland

State police say Jon Ladd, 36, of Medway showed signs of recent drug use when Trooper Dana Austin responded to the scene of where Ladd had passed out.

ORLAND, Maine — A man who passed out behind the wheel Saturday evening was charged with drug trafficking in Orland.

 

State police say Jon Ladd, 36, of Medway showed signs of recent drug use w


After a search of Ladd’s car, 10 grams of fentanyl and $1,727 in cash were found.
hen Trooper Dana Austin responded to the scene of where Ladd had passed out.

Ladd was arrested and charged with aggravated trafficking of schedule w drugs.

Maine: Biddeford man, Jamison Snyder jumps out second-story window, then gets tased, then gets arrested

Jamieson Snyder was arrested Monday after he jumped out a window trying to avoid police. Officials found suspected heroin/fentanyl, cocaine, and crack on Snyder.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — A man recently released from prison who had a nationwide warrant for his arrest was arrested Monday after jumping out a second story window in Biddeford.

Maine State Police say Jamison Snyder, 47, of Biddeford was wanted in a drug trafficking case. Snyder was recently released from prison but had already violated his probation. He had 7 years o9-year9 year sentence still pending.

Police spoke to several people who said Snyder was acting strange and appeared to be under the influence of narcotics.

Around 6 p.m. Biddeford Police arrived at a Main Street Apartment looking for Snyder.

A woman would not open the door saying she needed to get dressed while an officer watching from the street saw Snyder jump from the second-floor window onto ice injuring his head.

When police surrounded Snyder his head was bleeding and he refused to show his hands and was tased.

Police found a plastic bag containing suspected heroin/fentanyl, cocaine, and crack in Snyder’s hand.

At the hospital, authorities found a large amount of cash on his person. Snyder is being charged with aggravated trafficking.

Snyder is presently being held at Maine Medical Center under police guard and will be transported to the York County Jail upon his release.