Chinese researchers try brain implants to treat drug addicts

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The sound of doctors boring through his skull to feed electrodes deep into his brain made Yan tremble.

“The drill was like bzzzzzzz,” he later recalled. “The moment of drilling is the most terrible.”

Yan has been using methamphetamine since 2011. The hope is that technology will extinguish his addiction — quite literally, with the flip of a switch.

The treatment — deep brain stimulation — has long been used for movement disorders like Parkinson’s. Now, the first clinical trial of DBS for methamphetamine addiction is being conducted at Shanghai’s Ruijin Hospital, along with trials for opioid addiction. Yan is the study’s first patient; for fear of losing his job, he asked that only his surname be published.

Western attempts to push forward with human trials of deep brain stimulation for drug addiction have foundered, even as China has emerged as a hub for this kind of research.

But the vast suffering wrought by the U.S. opioid epidemic may be changing the risk-reward calculus for doctors and regulators. Now, the experimental

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