Nora Volkow: Two paths to the future  pg. 10

“Unless I’m missing it… there is no federal champion for that. And that’s a shame. It’s a missed opportunity to make our country healthier,” says Schroeder, who directs the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Schroeder's point is well taken, Leshner responds, but Volkow's responsibility is much broader than advocacy. “She actually does advocate,” he says, “but ... her job is to make sure that the science is as good as it can be and then to bring the science to the attention of policy makers.”

Nora Volkow (far right) with her sisters (from left) Verónica, Natalia and Patricia
Photo Courtesy Nora Volkow, Ph.D.
Volkow believes that continued research is the way to overcome many of the challenges to improving treatment of addiction. PET studies, for example, are aiding the development of anti-obesity drugs that may interrupt the conditioned responses reinforcing compulsive drug-taking behavior as well as compulsive eating.

Brain imaging also could be used to measure the effectiveness of non-drug treatments. Since chronic drug abuse weakens the reward and motivation circuitry of the brain so that it only responds to more drug, it may be possible to “exercise” the brain in a way that increases the response to normal reinforcing stimuli and reduces the likelihood of relapse.

Yet Volkow agrees with Schroeder: “We have information we’re not using.”

“Drugs permeate the medical system,” she says. “We’re doing a disfavor to the wellbeing of a wide variety of patients—whether they have lung disease, whether they have cancer, whether they have mental illness, whether they have an infectious disease—by not addressing the problem of addiction.”

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