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NIDA. (1999, March 1). Bulletin Board. Retrieved from

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March 01, 1999

Compounds May Treat Cocaine-induced Heart Disease

Dr. Donald OhuohaDr. Donald Ohuoha (center), formerly with NIDA's IRP, draws a compound for preventing cocaine's damaging effects on the heart into a hypodermic needle. He is watched by Dr. Richard Rothman (left) and Dr. Charles Schindler, both with IRP.

Cocaine abuse has been associated with a variety of cardiovascular diseases - including cardiac arrhythmia, in which the normal rhythm of the heart beat is disrupted. In severe cases of cardiac arrhythmia, death can occur, even in young people with no history of heart disease.

Dr. Donald Ohuoha, formerly with NIDA's Intramural Research Program (IRP) in Baltimore and now at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Charles Schindler and Dr. Richard Rothman at IRP, have discovered that certain compounds may be useful for treating cocaine-induced cardiac arrhythmia. The compounds block some of the actions of the chemical messenger serotonin in the heart.

Other researchers have shown that serotonin can elicit arrhythmia in human hearts. Because cocaine raises serotonin levels, among other actions, the IRP investigators reasoned that the serotonin-blocking compounds might be useful treatments for cardiac arrhythmia caused by cocaine abuse.

The IRP researchers found that when the compounds were given to rats before the rats were given cocaine, the compounds could prevent cocaine's effects on the cardiovascular system, including changes in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as arrhythmia. When the rats were given the compound after they were given cocaine, the compounds reversed the drug-induced arrhythmia. If these findings are confirmed in other animals and in humans, the compounds eventually might be used for treating cocaine-induced cardiac arrhythmia in humans. These results were reported in the October 2, 1998, issue of Life Science.

Summer Research Programs for Students

NIDA's Intramural Research Program (IRP) in Baltimore encourages careers in science by offering students the opportunity to participate in summer research programs. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Summer Internship Program is for students in high school, college, and graduate school; the NIH Summer Research Fellowship Program is for students in medical and dental school; and the NIDA Minority Recruitment and Training Program is for students from underrepresented groups in high school, college, graduate school, medical school, and dental school.

Students selected work directly with IRP scientists on various research projects, such as studying drug effects on the brain and behavior or developing medications for treating drug addiction. Students also may attend weekly seminars. At the end of the summer, students present the results of their projects along with other students in NIH summer programs at an event on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

More information on the NIH summer programs is available at the NIH home page on the World Wide Web at Students without Internet access can call the NIH Office of Education at 301-402-2176. Information about the Minority Recruitment and Training Program is available at 410-550-1562.

Monograph Analyzes Economics of Prevention Programs

Research has shown that many theory-based drug abuse prevention programs reduce adolescent drug abuse, but few economic analyses of these programs have been conducted. Such analyses would allow policymakers to compare the cost-effectiveness of different programs and would demonstrate that resources spent on these programs reduce the health, crime, and other costs related to drug abuse.

To encourage more research in this field, NIDA convened experts in the areas of drug abuse prevention research and economic evaluation studies. The papers presented at this meeting have been published in a NIDA Research Monograph, Cost-Benefit/Cost-Effectiveness Research of Drug Abuse Prevention: Implications for Programming and Policy (PDF, 635 KB). The monograph was edited by Dr. William Bukoski of NIDA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research and Dr. Richard Evans of the University of Houston.