June 16, 2006
Vol. 36, Issue 11
Back Issues
Fireworks: The start of a new Reunions traditon
U.Va.'s 'Grand Experiment' begins
Thinking of becoming a doctor?
Research yields effective therapy for battling cocaine addiction
Faculty actions
Letting students lead
Curry students present ideas for closing the minority achievement gap
Engineering wins innovation grant
Don Jones retires
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind discusses 'improvising' in the war on terror
Upstart Americans establish international credentials through the 'Style of Power' at the U.Va. Library
IM-Rec keeps U.Va. fit


Kicking the habit
Research yields effective therapy for battling cocaine addition

Bankole Johnson
Bankole Johnson, M.D.

By Mary Jane Gore

Dr. Bankole Johnson and colleagues from the U.Va. Department of Psychiatric Medicine have found that ondansetron, a serotonin antagonist drug, reduced cocaine’s reinforcing effects in people who volunteered to be part of a recent study. These findings are the first to show the value of ondansetron in battling cocaine and its addictive qualities.

“We are encouraged by the results of this study, which show a promising role for ondansetron in the effort to find new, effective treatment for cocaine dependence,” said Dr. Johnson, chairman of psychiatric medicine.
Most cocaine users find it very difficult to quit. Despite almost two decades of scientific effort, the Food and Drug Administration has approved no medication for the treatment of cocaine dependence. Cocaine users have high relapse rates under the currently available behavioral and psychosocial interventions.

For this study, recently published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the U.Va. research team collected data from 63 cocaine-dependent men and women who were seeking treatment. They received a placebo or one of three dosages of ondansetron, twice daily. Cognitive behavioral therapy also was provided each week.

Individuals treated with the highest dose of ondansetron had the lowest dropout rates and a greater rate of improvement in percentage of participants with a cocaine-free week as compared with the placebo group.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It was a collaborative project between NIDA and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where Dr. Johnson began his research and served as deputy chairman for research and a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology.

Cocaine dependence and its psychiatric, social and economic consequences add up to a major public health problem in the United States, and a pharmaceutical treatment would be a boon for cocaine users trying to quit. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 5.7 million people (2.4 percent of the U.S. population) had used cocaine in the past year and 2.0 million (0.8 percent) had used cocaine within the past month.

Highest honor

Dr. Bankole Johnson, chairman of the University of Virginia Department of Psychiatric Medicine, has won the highest honor of the American Psychiatric Association. Johnson received the APA Award for Distinguished Psychiatrist at the association’s recent meeting in Toronto, where he also delivered a lecture in his specialty field, addiction medicine. Johnson’s clinical-trials focus is on pharmaceutical treatments that help to curb dependence on alcohol and cocaine. These studies demonstrated dramatic improvements for some patients who had been dependent for years. Johnson will soon serve as the lead principal investigator on a $5 million research study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to curb methamphetamine dependence.

Johnson’s past honors include service on numerous NIH review and other committees, including special panels. He is the 2001 recipient of the Dan Anderson Research Award for his “distinguished contribution as a researcher who has advanced the scientific knowledge of addiction recovery.” He received the Distinguished Senior Scholar of Distinction Award in 2002 from the National Medical Association. In 2003, Johnson was inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame for contributions to science, mathematics and technology.

Johnson graduated from Glasgow University in 1982 with a degree in medicine, and trained in psychiatry at the Royal London and Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals. Johnson also trained in research at the Institute of Psychiatry (University of London) and at Oxford University. In addition to his medical degree, Johnson received a doctoral degree for his research in psychopharmacology from the University of Glasgow.


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