Professor Nirmala Gopal from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Discipline of Criminology and Forensic Studies (College of Humanities) initiated an interdisciplinary dialogue with academics from the College of Health Sciences. The dialogue spanned over five years and was informed by her inquiry of why the success rate to rehabilitate drug users is significantly low in South Africa.

She says, ‘Drug addiction has reached epidemic proportions among youth in South Africa. The devastating effects of drug addiction are on the user, the family and community. Drug addiction is correlated to gangsterism and drug wars resulting in many fatal deaths and the perpetuation of violent communities. With the findings discussed above, this type of collaboration assures vital progress in identifying, preventing, and treating drug addiction holistically.’

Her knowledge of the social and psychological reasons for the low rehabilitation success made her recognize a possible caveat in empirical work on the neurobiology of drug addiction.

Professor Gopal then invited colleagues at the Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit who were extremely receptive to the idea and the collaboration was formalized. This resulted in a first of its kind study.

Professor Gopal together with academics from pharmaceutical sciences used mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) in order to determine the localization and distribution of methadone and naltrexone in the rodent brain in order to better understand their mechanisms of action.

MSI image analysis showed that the drugs were highly localized in the striatal and hippocampal regions, including the nucleus caudate, putamen and the upper cortex.

These areas are strongly implicated in the development of addiction and are the major pathways that mediate brain stimulation during reward and now pave the way for many studies into the exact mechanism of action of these drugs and aid clinicians in making informed choices in addiction therapy.

Consequently, she then headed a project that resulted in the publication of a groundbreaking paper in the Journal of Addiction Biology (impact factor 4.6 and Q1 in all associated areas of research).

The papers showcase opioid addiction as a serious public health concern with severe health and social implications; therefore, extensive therapeutic efforts are required to keep users drug free.

The two main pharmacological interventions, in the treatment of addiction, involve management with methadone an mu (μ)-opioid receptor agonist and treatment with naltrexone, μ-opioid, kappa (κ)-opioid and delta (δ)-opioid antagonist, the use of these drugs is coupled with psychological therapy in the form of counselling.

UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research Professor Deresh Ramjugernath said, ‘The strategy for UKZN promotes interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research. We also want to encourage research that has both social and economic impact and relevance. Professor Gopal’s project on drug addiction and initiative between the Colleges of Humanities and Health Sciences is a good example of the type of research we would like to see at our University.’

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 11133 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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