Addiction researchers eager for $20M infusion eyed by Kasich


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio researchers in drug abuse and addiction say they’re impressed and energized by Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to infuse up to $20 million into scientific breakthroughs that he envisions helping to solve the national opioid crisis.

During Tuesday’s State of the State speech, the Republican governor sought to liken the potential of such treatments and technologies to past pioneering innovations in Ohio, such as those by Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

“The crisis of drugs continues to change, so our efforts to fight it will continue to change,” Kasich said. “Through thick and thin, we’ve got to stay unified, supporting one another.”

Accidental drug overdoses killed 3,050 people in Ohio in 2015, an average of eight per day, as deaths blamed on the powerful painkiller fentanyl again rose sharply and pushed the total overdose fatalities to a record high.

Kasich is asking the Third Frontier Commission, which supports Ohio’s technology and research economy from a voter-approved bond fund, to invest as much as $20 million in identifying and promoting existing, proven ideas that need an extra push to be brought to market.

Researchers at top-tier Ohio institutions, including Cleveland Clinic and Ohio State University, said such research is already underway and can benefit from a financial boost.

Among the ideas are special patient monitoring technologies; a device attached to the ear that relieves pain and blocks the effects of opiate withdrawal; deep brain stimulation; and a combination of physical therapy and psychological therapy.

Dr. Andrew Machado, a neurosurgeon at Cleveland Clinic, said those addicted to opioids need psychotherapy because they’re caught in a cycle of becoming disabled by injury, becoming sedentary, and then living in fear of the movement needed to improve the problem because when they move it hurts.

“Breaking that cycle cannot be accomplished only with physical therapy, but rather a combination of both,” he said. “This turns out to be expensive and very difficult to deliver.”

He said Kasich’s approach appears to respect that solutions to the problem of addiction are complex.

“Saying that we don’t have the solution yet but we’re going to put the dollars of the state behind the brains of the state to come up with a solution that will work for the state, and therefore the nation, is something that we should be appreciative of,” he said.

Dr. John Campo, of Ohio State’s Harding Hospital and chair of the university’s psychiatry and behavioral health department, said Ohio is positioned to lead the country in anti-addiction advances.

Those include brain adjustments that can be used to reduce addicts’ cravings or improve their decision-making to reduce relapses, and monitoring devices that could use biomarkers to detect a coming relapse.

“In a lot of ways, Ohio has really suffered a lot from the opioid crisis, and might this be an opportunity not only to solve problems at home, so to speak, but potentially in a way that maybe helps the rest of the country?”

David Scholl, a member of the Third Frontier Commission, said he sees Kasich as looking to “unleash and focus on this issue in a productive way.”

He said if the project is approved, the typical pattern would be for the panel to identify the challenge, then solicit research proposals and help leverage private and public investment in the ventures. The commission’s advisory board is expected to take up Kasich’s proposal soon.