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The Science Behind Heroin Addiction

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By Jason Weinstein.
Many experts on the front line of heroin treatment say addiction is a disease.

"I personally feel this is a medical issue. I don't feel that this is a criminal issue," said Lynn Skinner, Registered Nurse and Health Coordinator for the Addiction Center of Broome County.

And with that disease comes the science of how it works and how to beat it.

"In the middle you see a blue part," said Skinner holding a model of the brain. "And that's the pleasure center. It's called the limbic system. Right in there is an endorphine and dopamine pathway where most addiction lies," said Skinner.

Once an addiction takes root deep in the brain it can be tough to tame.

"People who are using tend to not use their cerebral cortex which we use for decision making, logical thinking. They try to use other areas of the brain to help their addiction going," said Skinner.

In a number of ways, by continuing to use, addicts further damage their ability to recover.

"There are inhibitory neurons that work when we eat too much and we feel full, we stop eating. When we drink too much and we feel too tipsy, we stop drinking. It's important that people know that people who suffer from addiction, these special neurons are kind of destroyed," said Skinner.

Skinner will sometimes use the drug vivitrol to help addicts recover. Vivitrol blocks receptors in the brain and prevent someone from getting the high from heroin. It's an injection with a dose that lasts 28 days. But Skinner warns there is no magic bullet.

"There has to be therapy in whatever form that is in combination with medication-assisted recovery," said Skinner.

Skinner hopes recognizing addiction as a disease will help remove it's stigma.

"The disease of addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease," said Skinner. "Just as a baby would fall down and get back up and learn that process to walk it's the same for someone who's addicted. A lot of times they go through treatment two to three times before they get it. Unfortunately with the lethality of heroin they don't get that second chance."

****In Binghamton, Jason Weinstein, Fox 40 HD News****