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China Medicine Science

China's Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction 385

Posted by timothy
from the than-a-bottle-in-front-of-me dept.
kkleiner writes "A small handful of doctors in China are using a highly controversial procedure to rid people of drug addiction by destroying a part of patients' brains. The procedure involves drilling small holes into the skulls of patients and inserting long electrodes that destroy a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area, often referred to as the "pleasure center" of the brain, is the major nucleus of the brain's reward circuit. Is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are?" The practice has been officially banned, but apparently continues nonetheless.
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China's Controversial Brain Surgery To Cure Drug Addiction

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:47PM (#42429209)

    They worked out so well last time.

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:01PM (#42429747)

      They did work out well in the past. It's easy to call treatments of the past barbaric without perspective. Often those treated with labotomies would have spent the rest of their lives in strait jackets or worse if not for the treatment. If your drug addiction is going to kill you in the next 6 months is this treatment really that terrible? Granted, governments always take this sort of thing too far "he's addicted to MMOs!" etc...

      • Abuses (Score:5, Insightful)

        by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @11:59PM (#42430391)
        Perspective? Lobotomy began with extremely careful scraping of the brain, meant to do the absolute minimum damage possible. Then some greedy quack in the USA took it to a ridiculous extreme, turning a nice young lady into a wheelchair-bound mess because her stuck-up family was worried about their social standing, and that soon degenerated into a procedure that should have been called a crime against humanity:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transorbital_lobotomy [wikipedia.org]

        If your drug addiction is going to kill you in the next 6 months

        There are no certainties about that sort of thing, but there is a certainty about the sort of brain-damaging lobotomy described in TFA: it is irreversible and destructive.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:34AM (#42430529) Homepage

        They did work out well in the past. It's easy to call treatments of the past barbaric without perspective.

        Not to mention the basic ideas of lobotomy are very much alive, I knew a guy with very severe epilepsy attacks. I think the surgery he had was something like this:

        Multiple subpial transaction

        This is used when it's not possible to remove the part of the brain that's causing the seizures. The surgeon will make a series of cuts to help separate the damaged part of the brain from the surrounding area. This stops seizures from moving from one part of the brain to other parts of the brain.

        He was in his 30s and that enabled him to finally move out of his parent's house, get a bit of education and a driver's license. It didn't come without downsides but overall he was much, much better off than before.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      21st Century Lobotomies are mostly pharmacological and some are just as irreversible as the surgical.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      They worked out so well last time.

      An example was Oscar Levant.

      The barber said he was going to open a butcher shop : "You mean you are going to close this one?"

      "Elizabeth Taylor should get divorced and settle down.'

      http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/oscar_levant.html [brainyquote.com]

    • by EdIII (1114411) on Monday December 31, 2012 @01:15AM (#42430663)

      Well, in this case, the patient is just doing it to themselves depending on the situation.

      What I understand about meth and brain chemistry is that over time a meth addict is saturating the pleasure center of their brain. The structures that pick up the neurotransmitters actually become damaged or less effective over time.

      This is why a lot of meth addicts will say the only way they can feel happiness is with the drug. Recovered meth addicts often complain that they have very serious issues feeling happy anymore.

      How long that takes to heal, I dunno.

      The end result of disabling the pleasure center may be inevitable. At least doing it in the beginning may be a way to get them stop completely and literally save their lives and increase the overall quality from a health standpoint alone. They may become emotionless, but can still live otherwise.

      Just my two cents. I'm not a doctor. Just know some very unfortunate recovered drug addicts that have more in common with Vulcans now than humans.

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:48PM (#42429221)

    is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are? Is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are?

    is it worth reading slashdot, if, reading it means reading poorly edited summaries like these? Is it worth reading slashdot, if, reading it means reading poorly edited summaries like these?

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:51PM (#42429249)

    Couldn't control his drug issues. His birth mother was addicted.

    Now he is gone. Would he have been better served to still be here w/o some "reward center". I don't know. I will never know.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:14PM (#42429419)

      Would he have wanted to live if he never found any joy in living ever again?

      • by quantaman (517394) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:25AM (#42431489)

        Would he have wanted to live if he never found any joy in living ever again?

        Speaking for myself (who doesn't have a drug addition), hell yes.

        Sure it's a reduced quality of life from ideal, but it's still life. Besides, there's a reason it's referred to as the "pleasure centre" and not the pleasure centre, the brain isn't that neatly divided, I'm sure they can still feel some kind of pleasure, and have other forms of satisfaction in life, but that particular reward mechanism won't function (at least not in the same way).

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Velex (120469)

      Never being able to feel satisfied again? Who the hell would want to live like that? Jesus. At least I was only circumcised so that I'd only feel pain from just my genitals and never pleasure. If my whole world were that way... christ, the things people like you would wish on other people is frightening.

      How much moralizing did your friend have to put up with that only drove him to be more addicted rather than accepting he's addicted and choosing treatment. How much stigma was associated with "being com

      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:46PM (#42429663) Journal

        if you were circumcised and can't feel pleasure from your penis then something went horribly, horribly wrong with the procedure. That's definitely not normal. I'm circumcised so I know what I'm talking about.

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Maybe Velex is a female and got to undergo the female circumcision? I'm also circumcised and I have plenty of fun with my equipment.

          The possibility that the surgery was messed up is still possible, of course.

        • by Velex (120469) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:00PM (#42429743) Journal

          Yes, something did go horribly wrong. Unfortunately, nobody's cared to understand non-obvious failure modes of that procedure. So, nobody thought that anything could go wrong when they decided to do it, at least not anything non-obvious that can not be corrected by further surgery. It didn't stop it from going wrong, though.

          In fact, when I started estrogen HRT (I'm transgendered) I asked my doctor about it just to make sure I wasn't making some awful mistake. His theory was that it was only because it seemed that my brain was female, and he postulated that a female brain might not, to put it in slashdot speak, have the proper device driver for it all to work right. Unfortunately, nobody told my doctor that what happened to me is possible. I'm not even sure I'm faulting circumcision correctly, but what I do know is what I feel, that I'm circumcised, that problem is with the same body part involved in that, and that no other trans person I've met can corroborate my experience. (I would likely still be transgendered and seek estrogen HRT even intact--I believe that because there are intact trans women and I can't figure out what difference it would make anyway in that matter.)

          What do I do about it, though? I guess I have to wait until they can grow me a new one from stem cells and replace it. I'm SOL in the meantime. Fortunately, I found other ways to satisfy myself, so all's not lost. I just may never be successful in giving my parents grandchildren.

          I'm comparing this to circumcision to hopefully make readers think. Some may agree with circumcision but disagree with this brain surgery and vice-versa.

          I only meant to raise the question of what can possibly go wrong and is it worth it to risk the occasional disaster when something less invasive and traumatic, like relaxed drug laws and treatment, might solve the problem just as well or even better.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Wait what?

            Did you have a botched circumcision, or did you willfully have your penis removed as part of a surgical transformation into a vagina?

            I don't mean to seem callous, but I am amazed the AMA allows doctors to mutilate people, even if they feel like they really need to be mutilated. IMHO there is a huge difference between a male circumcision and a sex change operation gone wrong...

          • Sure your not confusing circumsision [wikipedia.org] with castration [wikipedia.org]?

          • by Trillian_1138 (221423) <slashdot@frMENCK ... com minus author> on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:56AM (#42430611)
            Undoing some moderation, but wanted to chime in. I'm also a trans woman, and circumcised. As far as I can tell, my penis always worked fine. (Where 'fine' = 'got erect, ejaculated, functioned well enough for me to deposit sperm.') So far as I can tell, my being trans is unrelated to how well my genitalia does or doesn't function. Let me know if this responds to what you were curious about - I'd be happy to chat more.
      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        At least I was only circumcised so that I'd only feel pain from just my genitals and never pleasure.

        I'm sorry your circumcision was so badly botched. It's probably too late to sue for malpractice, unfortunately.

        • by arth1 (260657)

          I'm sorry your circumcision was so badly botched. It's probably too late to sue for malpractice, unfortunately.

          In civil law, this is true. But there is no statute of limitation on especially heinous crimes or where there's continuous violations.

          It should be rather obvious that performing alterations like this should only be allowed with informed consent, not just in parentis but actual legal consent. This is 2012 (2013 by the time some of you read this) and not the dark ages where we do acts because we should not question the invisible bearded man and his followers, whether their frock is black or white.

    • Would he have been better served to still be here w/o some "reward center". I don't know. I will never know.

      I read somewhere within the past month that the traditional/popular notion of a pleasure center is not correct. According to whatever I was reading, it's more of an impulse/addiction center, and the pleasure/reward comes from several other parts of the brain working together.

      The argument was something along the line that people or apes would repeat actions that stimulate the center, but it doesn't actually cause any pleasure.

    • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:08PM (#42429797)

      Losing a friend because he made bad decisions is tragic, and cause for grief. Having a friend lobotomized because the government has decided youre making bad decisions is horrifying, and cause for outrage.

      There is a big difference between making bad decisions freely, and having the government decide that you are no longer fit to make your own decisions.

      • by jamesh (87723) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:26PM (#42429909)

        Losing a friend because he made bad decisions is tragic, and cause for grief. Having a friend lobotomized because the government has decided youre making bad decisions is horrifying, and cause for outrage.

        There is a big difference between making bad decisions freely, and having the government decide that you are no longer fit to make your own decisions.

        There is a grey area here Mr Black'n'White, and that's when your bad decisions hurt and kill other people. And I mean directly, not just like 'you shouldn't smoke because someone else will have to take care of you later on' and 'the hospital couldn't save your mother because they were busy dealing with an overdose', I mean because ice addicts are killing people in their violent rampages and other addicts are robbing people to feed their next hit. That's when it becomes the governments problem.

        And the whole definition of addition is that you are no longer fit to make your own decisions because your addiction is making them for you.

        I'm not quite sure lobotomy is the answer here, but it may turn out to be the best of the available options.

        I wonder if it's possible to just turn off that part of brain for a bit instead of destroying it...

        • And the whole definition of addition is that you are no longer fit to make your own decisions because your addiction is making them for you.

          Then the answer is not to destroy the brain. It's to destroy the addiction -- You know, that thing that's making people do things. Oh, for fuck's sake, just listen to yourself.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mr. Slippery (47854)

          I mean because ice addicts are killing people in their violent rampages

          Citation needed.

          and other addicts are robbing people to feed their next hit. That's when it becomes the governments problem.

          ...which is a consequence of prohibition, which drives up prices, and not of the drug itself. How many alcoholics do you see robbing people to feed their next hit? Addicts committing theft is a government-created problem.

          And suggesting that the government has the rightful power to forcibly and irreversibly modify

        • Ice (4-Methylaminorex) was not present for really long on the black market as it tended to kills users quite quickly, you must me talking about meth or mdpv but even those do not make peoples go berserk unless they stay up for more than a week.
    • by AdamHaun (43173)

      I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. There seems to be a shortage of compassion in the comments, so I just wanted to offer my condolences.

    • by sjames (1099)

      He wouldn't have enjoyed it and depending on how bad the side effects were, he might not have even remembered most of it..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:54PM (#42429269)

    When it comes to a real problem a change in personality wouldn't be such a problem, but losing dopamine forever? Never to feel positive emptions again ever? I don't care who you are that's not worth it. Surely the reason people get addicted to begin with is they don't have enough dopamine and serotonin in their life for whatever reason.

    • I've heard that drug/alcohol abusers are all 'self-medicating' themselves, unknowingly trying to do what proper medication can achieve. We know so much more of how the brain works today, when properly diagnosed, and in conjunction with recovery programs, the odds of getting a normal life back are far higher than what they used to be. To paraphrase a Dr. McCoy quote, "Drilling holes in peoples heads is not the answer."
      • by Firethorn (177587)

        've heard that drug/alcohol abusers are all 'self-medicating' themselves, unknowingly trying to do what proper medication can achieve.

        Some, not all, I think. And 'proper medication' can't address everyone's problems yet(perhaps never).

        But yes, the general answer is an individualized course of medical treatment is the most effective solution to these sorts of things. Surgery very rarely required.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:55PM (#42429281)

    "is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are? Is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are?"

    I suspect that OP might have already had such an operation...

  • Ready yourselves. You will be upgraded.

  • Seriously editors (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz (1787294) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:58PM (#42429307)

    FIX THIS SHIT!

    There's no more nice way to say it. This isn't a case of leaving the unit off a measurement, a simple typo, or even the ever so common case of a grammatical mistake a 10 year old could pick out.

    This is YOU timothy not bothering to read 111 words that you put in the summary, let alone edit them.

    Know what happens to me when I go to work and don't do any work, worse still I embarrass the company I work for? I get fired.

    • by scubamage (727538)
      You must not be part of the US Congress. They can ignore their jobs and get raises!
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      a grammatical mistake a 10 year old could pick out....This is YOU timothy not bothering to read 111 words that you put in the summary...

      Leave him alone, he's just had a lobotomy in China.
         

  • Serious question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @08:59PM (#42429311) Homepage Journal

    The story sucks, but I have to wonder. We do some radical brain surgeries at times just to fix problems with seizures. At least in the long term addiction carries a higher incidental rate of death, lowered quality of life, and such than seizures.

    So I guess I'd have to say 'it depends'. I'd view it a bit the same as stomach stapling for weight loss -

    I'd need to know a heck of a lot more about the details of the surgery - primary effects, dangers, side effects, success rates, etc...
    Does it result in an unmotivated zombie, because there's no longer any reward for doing so much as life maintenance tasks? Can they still feel pleasure? Is it only being used on the most serious 'mental' addiction cases? I added mental because this wouldn't solve physical addictions to things like heroin, I think, but might help solve addictions to gambling, stealing, etc...

    Going by the article, it seems to only stop addictions 10% better than traditional methods, and is still well under half. 60% have serious side effects, so I'm going to go with 'nope, not worth it, keep looking'.

    As for 'losing who you are', well, even just day to day life you change. I'm not the same person I was a decade ago. Technically I'm not the person I was yesterday. If somebody wants to change, it might be worth it.

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      I'm not convinced that addition has greater death than seizure.
    • by Velex (120469)

      I'd view it a bit the same as stomach stapling for weight loss

      Agreed, but because I think it's the completely wrong approach and that it completely ignores the root cause. It's like using circumcision to treat urinary tract infections. There are plenty less-traumatic and less-invasive ways of achieving the goal. At least there may be a way to undo a stomach staple that I haven't cared to learn about. If things go horribly wrong after that piece of brain is flushed down a garbage disposal, how do you ever get it back? Or is suicide the option left for whoever you

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        It probably isn't appropriate to bring circumcision into this thread, because brain surgeries like this are a whole world more revolting and horrific.

        I think I agree. Circumcision surgery is both less talked about and not nearly invasive enough for a comparison in my head. At least a stomach stapling requires cutting you open, and deals a bit with 'addiction'(to food in this case) and behavior modification(you can no longer eat the same as you did before with a stapled stomach). But I also look at it in the case of other brain surgeries - stopping seizures, for example. So I look at an example of brain surgeries, and and example of behavior modificat

    • by cbnewman (106449)

      This.

      For example, Michael J Fox had an ablative procedure (thalamotomy) to treat his parkinson's disease. We don't really do that procedure anymore because deep brain stimulation has gotten better, but this article is extremely light on details and the write up (particularly by the OP) is needlessly sensationalized.

    • At least in the long term addiction carries a higher incidental rate of death, lowered quality of life, and such than seizures.

      Yes, let's lobotomize people who are addicted to drugs like this commonly used stimulant:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee [wikipedia.org]

      it seems to only stop addictions 10% better than traditional methods

      I wonder if "traditional methods" include this utterly worthless crap:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_step_program [wikipedia.org]

      I also wonder how much better this lobotomy approach is than traditional methods other than 12 step programs...

    • by Renraku (518261)

      This is like treating your kid who bites their nails by having their nails surgically removed. It doesn't address the WHY of addiction, it simply removes one aspect of it. I'd wager that people who are cured of their addiction by this method are also cured of things like pleasure, joy, motivation, etc.

      But I'm sure America will adopt it soon enough. We're more interested in punishing people for drugs than treating the cause behind those drugs.

  • "A small handful of doctors in China are..."

    Is "small handful" common usage in English?

  • Thanks, Minitrue! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Goaway (82658) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:05PM (#42429347) Homepage

    The practice has been officially banned, but apparently continues nonetheless.

    Of course, we're not going to let that stop us from calling it "China's", as if it were some kind of official and mandatory procedure.

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      Given that it's going on in a military hospital with the approval of the state for a limited research run, I'm for attributing it to China.

  • by tiqui (1024021) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:15PM (#42429421)

    Are you truly who you think you are when you are addicted to drugs?

    Are the pleasures a drug-affected brain feels to be equated with other forms of pleasure?

    It would be one thing to wipe-out part of a healthy brain (thereby permanently altering it) like this but it might be another matter to make such a permanent change to a brain that has already had permanent, and negative, changes made by "modern chemistry". Of course, the presence of any pre-existing damage from drugs also raises questions of true consent. Not sure how I feel on this one, but given that this is on brains already affected by drugs the morals and ethics are a bit cloudier than they might otherwise be. Personally, I find the idea of depriving a person of the ability to experience pleasure both creepy and dangerous. Should we expect future headlines about "zombie" violence in China?

  • by retchdog (1319261) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:32PM (#42429573) Journal

    Dr. John Adler, professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Stanford University, collaborated with the Chinese researchers on the publication and is listed as a co-author. While he does not advocate the surgery and did not perform it, he believes it can provide valuable information about how the nucleus accumbens works, and how best to attempt to manipulate it. “I do think it’s worth learning from,” he says. ” As far as I’m concerned, ablation of the nucleus accumbens makes no sense for anyone. There’s a very high complication rate. [But] reporting it doesn’t mean endorsing it. While we should have legitimate ethical concerns about anything like this, it is a bigger travesty to put our heads in the sand and not be willing to publish it,” he says. cite [time.com].

  • A natural experiment (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    From the time I was 12 until the time I was 48, I spent most of every day thinking about sex, and wanting it desperately, and sometimes even getting it. Then one day my sex drive...faded. I couldn't get it up any more, I couldn't get it off any more, and underneath all that, I didn't care about it so much any more. That incessant, gnawing hunger was gone.

    I miss it terribly.

    I've been to my doctors, and they've poked and prodded, and run this test and that test, and prescribed this pill and that pill, and wit

    • by Krishnoid (984597) *

      Now that it isn't there, I've had to rethink some pretty basic things, like why I get up in the morning, and why I bother to do my job, given that I can't get what I really want any more.

      Futurama made this point [vimeo.com] as well. I'd think you have to reconsider:

      • whether its presence was always simply masking the absence of other motivations, and that the issue was always there, just hidden
      • how the presence or absence of involuntary physiologically-based wants/needs fundamentally advises your life choices, which you're already coming to grips with
      • if, in the absence of that want, you now have the freedom to choose your own motivations/wants [youtube.com] based on other criteria -- e.g., longer-term goals, per
    • How many times do we have to tell you that THIS IS NOT /b/?

  • by fred911 (83970) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @09:46PM (#42429659)

    You can cure thievery by cutting off hands.

  • by srwood (99488)

    This has been tried for years even in the USA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilateral_cingulotomy The only scientifically validated results are for treatment of depression.

  • What if they were treating pedophiles instead of dopers?

    • by Tanuki64 (989726)

      I doubt the church, especially the catholic church would like it.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      What if they were treating pedophiles instead of dopers?

      As long as the individuals can give informed consent without pressure, I'm all for that option, whether it's treating pedophilia, gourmandism or religion.

      If someone wants to stay a pedophile, that should be their choice. Note that pedophile is not a synonym for child abuser.

  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao AT hotmail DOT com> on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:59PM (#42430087) Homepage

    Meanwhile, in America, they do surgeries to remove a part of BABIES' PENISES.

    Pot, kettle, and all that shit.

  • I think most of us can agree we would rather feel the extreme highs and lows from addiction, than nothing at all.
  • Is it worth being cured of addiction if, losing the addiction, we also lose part of who we are?

    If the part that's lost is the scabby, rot-mouth tweaker who steals power tools to pawn for $20 to get that next hit, sounds good to me. It hardly sounds like this procedure is so precise, tho. Like trimming fingernails with a chainsaw. And the success rate is just shy of 50% in their very limited study. I'd want high 90s before I'd consider letting some Dr. Nick stick wires in my brain.

    Fortunately, my only addiction is tasty food and that's socially acceptable in America.

  • Why would they need a surgery that likely makes them never be happy again? They already live in China. That's pretty redundant.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday December 31, 2012 @12:17AM (#42430469)

    Why does everything have to be "part of who you are!!!"

    My wisdom teeth were part of me. I'm glad they're not anymore. An epileptic's seizures are part of who he is. Most are pretty happy when they're suppressed.

    The real question is, is being cured of addiction worth not being able to feel pleasure anymore, especially if its the only option? If that's actually what the surgery does. This IS slashdot.

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