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IU Study Finds Antibiotic That Stops Cocaine Withdrawals

An antibiotic that is also used to treat meningitis could be used to remove a neurotransmitter that triggers withdrawals from the brain.

glutamate

Photo: National Institute on Drug Abuse

A diagram from the National Institute on Drug Abuse depicts why drug users experience withdrawals. The small dots with red centers are glutamate and send signals to the neuron that triggers withdrawals.

An antibiotic used to treat meningitis could also be used to treat cocaine addiction.

When someone stop taking the drug, their body starts to release a chemical called glutamate. That sends signals to the brain, exciting the nervous system and causing a drug craving.

Indiana University researchers say they have found a way to stop glutamate from being released, and therefore stop withdrawals.

IU Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences George Rebec says when he and his team gave cocaine-addicted rats an antibiotic called ceftriaxone they did not experience withdrawals. In this case, they did not pull a lever that gave them cocaine.

“It’s not as those ceftraixone blocks their behavior, it’s not as though they can’t press the lever,” he says. “They can press the lever fine if we give them food, but they won’t respond for the drug anymore.”

What the antibiotic does is boosts the presence of a protein in the brain called GLT1, and GLT1 removes glutamate.

But there is still much work to be done before the antibiotic could be used in humans. Rebec says he does not know how long the antibiotics’ effects last and the study suggests addicts would not be able to take it right away after they stop taking drugs.

Dr. Jerry Neff, a clinician at Centerstone  in Bloomington, says people struggling with addiction should not look to this as an end-all for drug rehabilitation.

“They can still benefit from treatment” he says. “We don’t want to see anyone put off that possibility while waiting for the miracle that may or may not happen here.”

Neff says he is still excited for the antibiotic’s potential and hopes it can shed some light on the complex problems surrounding drug addiction.

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