NIDA scientists are always saying that teens shouldn’t use drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. But do you know why they say that? Because of scientific studies like this one by Dr. Jay Giedd, which shows that your brain won’t reach its adult potential until you’re over 20 years old. If you’re a teen—even if you’re a high school senior—your brain is still maturing. Your neurons are still developing, and connections between different parts of your brain are still forming. Drugs and alcohol may mess up that process.
Along with his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Giedd created this scientific figure.
This picture is a cartoon depicting how the human brain continues to change between the ages of 4 and 21 years. As you move from left to right along the red arrow, the brain gets older. Above the arrow are side views of the brain (as if someone was standing in front of you, looking toward your right shoulder). Below the arrow are views of the brain from the top (like you are looking down on someone’s head).
So what’s with the rainbow colors? The colors represent the amount of “gray matter” (or active brain cells called neurons) that the researchers found in brains of different ages, using a brain imaging technique called MRI. Gray matter isn’t usually this colorful (hence the term ‘gray’ matter), but these brain pictures have been color-coded to show areas of more or less gray matter. Pink and red areas have the most gray matter, while green and blue areas have the least.
So, who do you think has more gray matter—you, or your parents? What does the figure show?
Yep—you do! It turns out that the number of neurons in your brain actually decreases as you get older. Younger brains have more gray matter (represented by the pink and red areas) than older brains (which are more green and blue). But wait—if the number of neurons in your brain is going down as you age, does that mean you’re getting dumber?
Fortunately, no. The total number of neurons in your brain isn’t as important as how your neurons connect to each other. As you get older, everything you learn and experience shapes the connections between the neurons in your brain. Over time, the connections between neurons become stronger. Your brain also develops more myelin—a white substance that wraps around neurons, insulates them, and helps them communicate more effectively. It’s like starting with a blob of clay and carving it away to make a sculpture: eventually you get a sleek, smart, mature adult brain, like the blue brains on the far right of the figure.
This figure also shows which parts of the brain mature first and which mature last. One of the very last areas to develop is the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain located just behind your forehead. This part of the brain is responsible for helping you make good decisions, and isn’t fully mature until well after you graduate from high school! Scientists think this might help explain why teens tend to take more risks than adults, including experimenting with drugs.
Does all this mean that teens can’t make smart decisions? No. Teens can and do make good choices all the time. What this figure shows is that your brain doesn’t reach its full potential until you are in your mid-twenties. Basically, teenagers have a lot of brainpower still to come online—good reason to avoid stunting your potential brain power now with drugs or alcohol.
Watch some cool time-lapse movies showing how the brain changes with age.
SBB recently caught up with a few past winners of the NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award to find out what the teens are doing now. Not everyone has followed a science path, but they are all in college pursuing their interests. In this series, the winners offer advice for today’s high school students trying to figure out what to do after graduation.
Yamini Naidu from Portland, OR, impressed judges for the NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award with her project on methamphetamine addiction. After winning the award, she was invited to present her research to NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow and other scientists. As a result, she received the opportunity to spend summer 2012 as an intern working in NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) in Baltimore, MD.
Yamini first became interested in neuroscience after her uncle passed away from a stroke. She felt driven to pursue research related to that disease, even though other members of her family weren’t particularly science oriented. “I think one of the best ways to get involved in science is to do a science project that interests you. We had a middle school program where all kids had to do a project; that was my introduction to science.”
She started working with her teachers in middle school and later in high school for support. “That gave me contacts and relationships with other people interested in science. They helped me act on my interest.”
Discovering Lessons for Life
“Dr. Volkow is an inspiration to me,” said Yamini. “She revolutionized the idea of drug addiction as a disease and not a character defect. I admire the way she encourages young people.” The NIDA internship also opened a lot of doors for her. “It gave me a new perspective on science research. I had so much support from people at the IRP. I enjoyed the experience so much; I wanted to stay much longer.”
Yamini encourages other teens to pursue their dreams. “Don’t worry about failing or not living up to standards. Take one step at a time, and you’ll be able to help make a difference.”
You probably know that your genes help make you who you are. Except for identical twins, everyone has a slightly different set of genes, and when our genes interact with our environment, that’s what makes us unique individuals.
Genes give us different hair, eye, and skin colors, and affect our height and weight. Genes also affect the inside of our bodies, and influence how organs like the heart, lungs, and even the brain work. But did you know that genes also affect how you behave. And the opposite is true as well–how you behave can affect your genes!
Scientists have learned that genes are affected by our lifestyles–what we eat and drink, how much we exercise, how much we sleep. These factors influence how genes are expressed–or turned “on” or “off”–in our bodies. That can have pretty major effects on health.
Currently, scientists are studying how taking cocaine affects your genes. Scientists have known for a while that using cocaine over a drawn-out period can lead to permanent changes in the brain. Teen brains may be especially vulnerable, because they are not yet fully developed. But what causes those changes to happen?
In May 2009, a NIDA-funded study found one piece of the puzzle-and it has to do with, yep, genes. For the first time, scientists have discovered that mice given repeated cocaine exposure “turn on” genes in certain regions of the brain. These genes, called sirtuins [pronounced sir-2-ins], are activated by long-term exposure to cocaine, and it looks like they contribute to the development of addiction.
When the scientists prevented sirtuin activation in the brains of lab mice, the mice didn’t find cocaine to be as good, or rewarding. To say it another way, without turning these genes “on,” cocaine couldn’t give the mice a “high” anymore, and the mice didn’t want the drug as much.
These results are pretty exciting, because if scientists could develop a treatment based on these genes, it might help people suffering from cocaine addiction. That kind of treatment is a long way off–but at least now the scientists know how cocaine affects genes, and how that affects the brain. And that’s a good start.
To find out more about how cocaine affects the body, visit NIDA’s website, or read this basic overview of how genes and drug addiction interact.
Bath salts—the drug, not the perfumed crystals you put in bath water—showed up just a few years ago. The synthetic powder is sold online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of names, such as "Blue Silk," "Zoom," "Cloud Nine," and "Hurricane Charlie." But don’t let the fun names fool you: Bath salts are extremely dangerous.
What Are Bath Salts?
Bath salts are a new family of drugs that contain synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant. Bath salts typically appear as white or brown powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “not for human consumption.” People who abuse bath salts swallow, inhale, or inject them.
How Do Bath Salts Affect the Brain?
Much is still unknown about the chemicals in bath salts, but they are similar to amphetamines (such as methamphetamine) as well as to MDMA (Ecstasy). So far, research has shown that the most common chemical found in bath salts, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), works like cocaine by increasing the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, causing a feeling of euphoria and hyperactivity. However, MDPV is 10 times more potent than cocaine.
Bath salts may also raise the levels of serotonin, causing hallucinations. Mephedrone and methylone, two other chemicals often sold as bath salts, were found to raise serotonin in a way similar to MDMA.
What Are the Other Health Effects of Bath Salts?
The synthetic chemicals in bath salts are very toxic and have been linked to increases in visits to emergency rooms and poison control centers across the country.
Bath salt abuse can cause the following physical and psychological symptoms:
|Racing Heart||Panic Attack||High blood pressure||Dehydration|
|Chest pains||Kidney failure||Paranoia||Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue|
|Hallucinations||Insomnia||Psychotic and violent behavior||Death|
What Are We Doing To Prevent Abuse of Bath Salts?
Bath salts users have reported that the drugs trigger intense cravings (or a compulsive urge to use the drug again) and that they are highly addictive.
In response to rising abuse rates of bath salts, President Obama signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, which bans MDPV, mephedrone, and other bath salts ingredients. However, drug manufacturers have responded by developing new versions of bath salts that use ingredients that, while just as toxic, are not yet banned.
If you know someone who is abusing bath salts, tell an adult or contact 1-800-662-HELP to find out how to get help for the person.
Find out more about bath salts.
Since we’re at the end of December, it’s almost time for New Year’s Resolutions. Most of those are really hard to keep, right? (like commitments to exercise more or get straight A’s). Well, SBB is prepared to make a New Year’s resolution of another kind: to stay on top of the latest news and information about drug abuse and addiction and share it with all of you. After a great start in 2009, with more than 59 blog posts and nearly 40,000 unique visitors to the site, you probably know by now that you can trust this blog for scientific and accurate information about drugs and related topics.
What can we expect from NIDA scientists in the year 2010? Here are just a few of the questions researchers will be working on in the coming year:
- How can we best use the Internet to help people with drug problems?
- Can we really get a vaccine for people addicted to cigarettes, or to illegal drugs like cocaine, to help them quit and prevent them from starting up again?
- How does smoking affect bone health in teen girls?
- What is the best way to help people addicted to prescription drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin?
- How can we develop pain medications that are as strong as Vicodin but will not get you addicted?
- How can we use the part of marijuana that might work as a medicine and give it to people in a safe way?
So 2010 should be an exciting year! And SBB “resolves” to be right here to tell you about it. Happy New Year everyone—What’s 2010 look like for all of you?
In April NIDA is having its “Blending” conference. No, this is not a conference about smoothies…So what does “Blending” mean to NIDA?
Let’s start back a little ways. First of all, doctors and treatment providers (the people who provide treatment to help addicted patients recover) don’t learn everything they need to know in medical school or college about taking care of patients. Scientists are constantly testing new ideas for improving treatments—but once they find treatments that work, how do they get them to the doctors and others who are actually treating patients?
Maybe in an ideal world, every doctor, social worker, or psychologist could read every good research finding in a medical or scientific journal and automatically know how to make it work for their patients. But real life isn’t that easy. A decade ago, it took more than 17 years to turn scientific research results into actual treatments used for real people! At the National Institutes of Health, scientists are working to change that, including NIDA scientists.
The NIDA “Blending” thing is part of this. We bring scientists together with the people who are actually treating patients with drug problems and “blend” their knowledge and expertise, testing treatments with actual patients and adjusting them to work better. The treatments that work the best are shared with others around the country, who are trained to use them. This “Blending” helps speed up the process of getting treatments that work to the patients who need them.
Here are a couple examples of new treatment ideas that providers will learn about at this year’s Blending conference in Albuquerque:
- New Treatments for teens and young adults who are addicted to opioids (drugs like Vicodin, Oxycontin or even heroin). There is a medication called Buprenorphine that has been successful with adults and now research is showing it may work for teens.
- Treatment Vaccines. We usually think of vaccines as something we take to avoid disease, but vaccines are being developed that can help people quit smoking and quit doing illegal drugs like cocaine (stay tuned for more on vaccines.)
So if you are reading this, you now know as much about “Blending” as many of the people who will attend the conference. Congratulations! And keep reading this blog to learn what we are learning about better ways to help people who struggle with addiction.
“We always start with a question…”
We love getting the comments you send us in response to important or controversial posts. As you know, Sara Bellum has the opportunity to interact with some of the world’s most renowned researchers to understand more about drug abuse and addiction. Since many of you have commented on blog posts questioning the science or wondering how NIDA scientists reach their conclusions, we invited NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, to talk about how scientists go about the process of discovery. Dr. Volkow explains:
In scientific research, we always start with a question. It could be something monumental—like setting out to map every neuron in the human brain to help determine its precise structure—or something that applies in only certain cases—like why do some people get addicted to drugs more easily than others?
Once we have a question in mind, we investigate existing research to see how others have looked at the question, or maybe even answered it. Sometimes, this helps a researcher refine the question or discover whether other conclusions could have been drawn from existing data.
Science is about testing and retesting our assumptions
Based on current research on differences in addiction between individuals, we might look through data to identify common features for drug-addicted persons: are they based on a family history of addiction? Are there environmental factors like the availability of certain drugs? What about mental health considerations?
From there, we would form a hypothesis. For example: “In certain individuals, heredity is a factor in drug addiction.”
Then we would devise a way to test that hypothesis in an experimental group vs. a control group. The only way we can verify results is to have someone else conduct the experiment independently and replicate the findings. Science is about testing and retesting our assumptions. Only then can we call it a science-based fact.
So, you can see that scientists are, by nature, curious about why and how things work. Maybe you’ve been curious enough to do a science experiment yourself?
Maybe you’re like teens Daniel Martin, Jada Dalley, and Sehar Salman, who all found themselves pursuing scientific mysteries: Daniel wondered if he could prove the urban myth that scavengers in the deserts of the Southwest will not touch human remains with even a trace of methamphetamines in their bodies. Jada and Sehar examined tsetse flies (a common experimental source for scientists) to discover something completely new: effects of third-hand smoke. They searched for answers using the scientific method Dr. Volkow describes above, and designed research projects that earned them a 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) Addiction Science Award.
Check out ( PDF [586 KB] ) what Daniel, Jada and Sehar found, and how they reached their conclusions.
Keep asking questions.
My name is Sarah and before my high school senior year, I spent a summer at NIDA as an intern with the Center for Clinical Trials Network (CCTN). Never heard of it? Neither had I. I discovered that the goal of the CCTN is to improve the quality of drug abuse treatment throughout the whole country by doing safe and interesting scientific studies with humans. By the way, human studies are called “Clinical Trials.” These are trials or tests done to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of different medications or approaches by monitoring their effects on large groups of people, like a big “clinic” full of patients, but in a research setting.
As the name implies, the CCTN works as a network that includes scientific investigators all over the country. These investigators work together to develop and carry out clinical trials to evaluate behavioral and medical treatments for drug addiction, and to discover new ways to make existing treatments more effective.
So what did I learn about clinical trials? Clinical trials provide the best standard for demonstrating that a certain behavioral treatment or medicine really works and is also safe for humans. In the area of drug addiction, there is a great need for safe and effective treatments that are tailored to the specific addiction, such as heroin, cocaine, or marijuana.
I also learned that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. It may be easy to break one cycle of addiction, but it is very difficult to keep the patient from falling into another. One analogy is to think about the obese patient who can lose weight in the short run, but over time experiences many cycles of weight loss and gain, without really achieving an ideal body weight.
In a similar way, the addicted patient will receive successful treatment to break the addiction, but will continue to have cycles of relapse, requiring further treatments. The addicted patient might have a relapse towards the initial drug, but it can also be for a new substance or a combination of substances (e.g. initial addiction to marijuana, then addiction to opiates, then addiction to opiates and prescription drugs). Thus I discovered the true goal of the CCTN is to promote the development of treatments, or a combination of treatments, that will not only treat the addiction, but will also prevent future relapses.
More on clinical trials
While clinical trials are a way to develop new treatments and advance the scientific and clinical knowledge base from humans who volunteer to participate, I also learned that the volunteers themselves can benefit from their participation in clinical trials. For example, patients with difficult diseases like cancer can participate in a clinical trial in hopes of finding a cure, or at least a more effective treatment.
For more information on clinical trials, NIH maintains a clinical trials registry known as ClinicalTrials.gov, which contains information on trials supported by federal funds. There you can find information about a trial's purpose, who may participate, locations, and more.
My name is Yamini Naidu and I am a sophomore at Valley Catholic High School in Beaverton, Oregon. I have been working on a science project about Methamphetamine (METH) addiction for the past two years, beginning in the summer of 2009. To those who read this blog, I wanted to share my research experience on METH so you could learn about the great potential for biochemistry that exists in the world of drugs and addiction. I received guidance for this project from the Oregon Health and Science University, the Portland American Chemical Society, and my high school chemistry and biology teachers. My research focuses on developing a treatment for METH addiction through computer modeling.
I was inspired to do this science project because I have had an interest in the brain and in neurology ever since my uncle passed away from stroke as a complication of heart disease. I was intrigued by the fact that METH can cause strokes in young abusers by a process still unknown to science. I hope that my research will not only help in the treatment of METH addiction but also in the treatment of stroke. At present, there is no effective treatment for controlling METH craving during withdrawal and abstinence. The goal of my research is to find or create a small molecule that can potentially block METH from binding to a special activation site (called Site I). Site I is located on a receptor protein in the brain called hTAAR1 (human Trace Amine-Associated Receptor 1). METH normally binds to this receptor like a key fits a lock – only a key with that shape can fit in the TAAR1 lock.
While experimenting with computer models, I discovered two new activation sites (which I call Sites II and III) on the receptor protein. I predicted that certain chemicals that prefer to bind to these new sites can change the shape of the receptor, making it impossible for METH to stick. If the lock changes, the old key can’t fit! So, guided by the computer-generated 3D structures of the two new TAAR1 binding sites, I designed new compounds and verified by computer that they would match the shape of the new activation sites. These new compounds may be preferred over others because their chemical structures and shape give them a stronger potential to bind to the receptor. The Oregon Health and Science University has filed a patent application on my discovery of the two binding sites and my invention of the novel compounds. My future goals are to synthesize and evaluate the compounds that I designed as potential new medication leads in laboratory trials and eventually in human trials.
I first presented my project at the regional Central Western Oregon Science Expo. Several expos and science fairs later, I was selected by Intel NWSE to represent the state of Oregon at ISEF as a finalist, where I competed with 1,500 high school student finalists from around the country and world. At ISEF, I was awarded the First Place Award of $3,000 in the biochemistry category. In addition, I was invited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to give a talk on my research project in Washington, DC, this August. I have received recognition and rewards from many different organizations for my research, and I am happy now to share my great experience with more people.
Why have a government agency to regulate the food we eat (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and an agency to help protect our health (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)? These agencies are important in helping make rules, spread messages, and monitor things that affect Americans to make sure that we all stay healthy. The Government continues to add agencies that help to regulate and monitor health. In 1974, it created the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study, fund research, and spread the word about the science behind drug abuse and addiction.
As SBB has explained in many past posts, addiction is complicated. Like other mental disorders—such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—addiction is a chronic disease that can last a lifetime without proper treatment. And, addiction not only affects the addicted person, but also their family members and friends.
The goal of having a national agency that supports drug abuse research is to help prevent drug abuse and addiction. The more research we have to prove that addiction is a dangerous and lifelong brain disease, the more able we are to reduce the devastating effects that drug abuse has on individuals, their families and communities, and society as a whole.
NIDA's goal is to give people scientific knowledge about the dangers of drug abuse. Therefore, NIDA continues to explore how drugs work in the brain and body, and to develop and test new approaches to treatment and prevention. The first step is taken by researchers; the next step is up to you. How will you use this knowledge?
Over the years, NIDA has made its research available to many different audiences. In 2003, NIDA launched the NIDA for Teens Web site, which now hosts the Sara Bellum Blog (uh-hum), and other great tools, including Choose Your Path, which is an interactive video that asks you to make choices about prescription drug abuse, then see where those choices lead. Check out some other great resources that NIDA provides for students and young adults.
My name is Giselle and I’m from the enchanting island of Puerto Rico. This summer I’m doing an internship at the Office of Science Policy and Communications, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). I won’t have pristine beaches to visit, but while I’m here at the Neuroscience Center in Rockville, Maryland, I’m looking forward to learning about the science behind the brain, drug abuse, my body, and a lot more! I’m hoping to write a couple of blog posts about this so stay tuned. And by the way, cool scientists are blogging too!
Have you already visited all the sections of the NIDA Web site? If not, you should! It feels great when you know how your body works. Start learning!
This is a guest SBB post from NIDA intern Giselle.
The human brain continues to grow during the teen years, well into the twenties. It’s a scientific fact that abusing drugs and alcohol while your brain is still developing can change the brain’s structure and how it works—both in the short and long term.
Yale University scientists recently explored how some of these changes occur when the brain is exposed to the stimulant cocaine—and learned that some changes result from the brain trying to protect itself.
Your Brain’s Self-Defense
When exposed to cocaine for the first time, the teen brain tries to defend itself against the harmful drug by changing the shape of the brain cells (or neurons) and synapses. This defensive reaction is controlled by a certain pathway in the brain involving integrin beta1, a crucial gene in the development of the nervous system in humans and most animals. The scientists discovered that if they blocked the pathway—and prevented this cell-shape change—the mice became three times more sensitive to the effects of cocaine.
This research may explain why some people who use cocaine end up addicted to the drug while others escape its worst effects. Everyone’s genetic makeup is unique. It’s possible that those with strong integrin beta1 pathways are better able to avoid the dangerous effects of the drug. More research is needed to discover which genes can protect the brain from the effects of cocaine and other drugs.
Good News: Cocaine Use Is Down
“Comorbidity” is a strange word, right? Well, at least for me it was. I have to admit it that it was the first scientific word I learned during my internship here at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)–my Spanish accent still gives me a hard time pronouncing it. On the first day of my internship, I had to read and get acquainted with the extensive research that NIDA has done and published. Comorbidity was featured in NIDA’s Research Report Series.
So, what’s co-mor-bid-it-y? Here’s what NIDA scientists say: “When two disorders or illnesses occur in the same person, together or one after the other, they are called comorbid.” Having two disorders together can also cause them to interact in ways that make both of them worse.
So what does all of that really mean? It means that sometimes two illnesses go together. For example, people who have depression or other mental illness are often addicted to drugs as well, and vice versa, so that’s why scientists say depression is often “comorbid with” drug abuse.
NIDA scientists aren’t completely sure why people who are depressed are more likely to have a drug abuse problem. But here’s my take on it. Everyone has felt down before. If someone feels really bad, they may turn to drugs to “ease their mind.” Unfortunately, that can lead to a second disease–addiction to drugs–and then they feel even worse than they did before.
That’s what’s really bad about comorbid diseases: they can make each other worse! If someone is depressed, it’s harder to be motivated to quit using drugs. And if someone is using drugs, it can interfere with their treatment for depression.
What other diseases do you think could be comorbid? And why?
This is a guest SBB post from NIDA intern Giselle.
My name is Michael and I was an intern at NIDA during the summer of 2012. Normally, people picture scientists in laboratories when they think about the National Institutes of Health, but my time with NIDA has shown me that a lot of important scientific work is done in the office setting. Interning with NIDA, I was able to learn about scientific investigating, while also learning important aspects of working in a Government office, like public speaking and professionalism.
I worked on behalf of the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Workgroup at NIDA. Being an Asian American myself, I felt it appropriate that while learning the ropes of a scientific career, I could also participate in a program that would help prevent problems affecting minorities. The goal of my internship was to work with other AAPI Workgroup interns to design a Web site that would function as a survey to assess the rate of substance use among Asians as well as act as a research portal for anyone interested in learning about the dangers of drug abuse.
Since the interns had different skill sets, we all made the most out of our time because tasks were assigned according to our individual capabilities. On an average day, I would commute to NIDA and begin working on tasks, which usually involved research on a particular drug topic. Twice a week, the AAPI team would meet for a teleconference, where we heard drug-related lectures and received work instructions.
Some interesting things I learned during my NIDA internship include:
- The scope of addictive behaviors is increasing, with new problems that didn't exist before. For example, Internet addiction disorder is an emerging problem that may become a legitimate addiction in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—used to diagnose mental health conditions.
- Cultural pressures play a huge role in substance use, and different racial subgroups vary in their drug usage rates. For instance, Asian subgroups—such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese—have different rates of drug abuse and dependence.
- People who try drugs in adolescence can triple their chances of abusing drugs when they’re adults.
Aside from the abundance of new information I learned about the risks and prevalence of drug use, the daily practice of professionalism in the workplace is probably the greatest thing that I got out of this program. Whether it was simply dressing up every day or learning to work with peers and elders, interning at NIDA helped me grow into a more open-minded and mature individual. My experience with NIDA has given me insight into what it is really like to have a career in science, and it has definitely influenced my idea of a desirable path for the future.
This internship is very new because the summer of 2012 was its first year. Whatever direction this program goes, it offers valuable, real-world experiences, and so I encourage everyone to apply or simply stay tuned to NIDA to experience the intellectual growth that I have.
Michael Guo is a senior in high school in Vienna, Virginia. He interned with NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network, which develops, validates, and delivers new treatment options to patients in Community Treatment Programs.
Remember all the noise about the bad economy and how Congress was passing a "Stimulus Act" to help? The name of this bill is the "American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)". The idea is to give stimulus money to government agencies, who can then send it out around the country to save jobs or create new ones. As a government agency, NIDA got more than $260 million through ARRA to support more research projects on drug abuse and addiction. Some of that money has already been used to support students who are working this summer in science labs around the country. Here are some other projects that ARRA money is helping with:
- In Cincinnati, 250 teenage girls will participate in a study that looks at how stress, depression, and smoking could affect bone health. Results could help educate girls about how smoking affects their bones, so that fewer girls will start.
- In New York, scientists will use NIDA's ARRA money to see if parents can be trained with online programs to help them communicate better with their teens.
- In Seattle, Washington, researchers will use ARRA money to figure out better ways to help college students hooked on marijuana to stop using the drug and focus on a healthy lifestyle instead.
- And in Augusta, Georgia, scientists like Dr. Beth NeSmith (see photo) will be looking at kidney damage caused by cocaine use.
These are just a few examples of thousands of projects that NIDA will support around the country using ARRA money. Since NIDA is just one of the 27 Institutes and Offices at the National Institutes of Health, you can imagine how many people in the U.S. are benefiting—both people working in the labs, and patients who will hopefully end up a little closer to a cure. The Sara Bellum Blog thinks that's a really "stimulating" idea.
My name is Zofia, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about my experience interning with NIDA this past summer. I worked at NIDA last summer also, but in a different office. This time, I got a chance to learn more about how NIDA works by interning in the Public Information and Liaison Branch, otherwise known as PILB. (For those of you who don’t know, there are a LOT of acronyms to keep track of in the Government. Definitely made life a little bit more interesting and kept me on my toes!)
Even though I just graduated from college and thought I knew everything about everything, I learned a new fact every single day at NIDA. Aside from memorizing acronyms, another thing that kept things interesting in the office for me were the phone calls I handled. If someone looking at the NIDA Web site had a question, they called a phone number that went straight to my desk at PILB.
People would most often call to get more information about drug abuse, and I would forward them on to the appropriate NIDA staff member to answer. Sometimes it was a teary family member who had a loved one they suspected was abusing drugs, and they wanted to get more information about how to spot signs of drug abuse. Sometimes it was a teen who had tried a drug and wanted information about how it affected their body. It was really difficult sometimes to hear the despair and heartbreak in the voice of the callers, but for me, the silver lining in these situations was that people wanted to be as informed as possible about substance abuse problems.
And I hope that goes for you too! If you have a second, check out the awesome info on the NIDA for Teens Web site. Maybe you think that you can’t get hooked on cigarettes if you only try one. Or maybe you think marijuana is totally harmless. These are both myths that you can learn more about.
Working at NIDA has challenged my idea of what addiction really is, who it affects, and what can be done to treat it. Did you know that ANYONE could become addicted to drugs, especially drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers? Any person with a brain can become physically dependent on drugs.
Before my internship ended, I worked on “National Drug Facts Week,” an awesome NIDA-sponsored event that uses an entire week from January 28 to February 3, 2013, to dispel myths around drug abuse. Think about putting National Drug Facts Week on your calendar, and definitely tell your friends about it! And bookmark the NIDA for Teens Web site and come back often to check it out.
Zofia Klosowska, a graduate of the University of Maryland, was a summer intern in NIDA's Office of Science Policy and Communications. Now she is a Research Training Award Fellow at NIDA's Intramural Research Program labs in Baltimore, Maryland, where she will work with scientists looking into environmental and individual reasons people use drugs and relapse after treatment.