Pubdate: Fri, 09 Aug 2002
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Nick Paton Walsh
Bookmark: (Treatment)


A series of controversial brain operations pioneered by St Petersburg 
scientists as a cure to drug addiction has been halted by Russian 
authorities after a patient complained of damaging side-effects.

The operations, which began at the institute of the human brain in St 
Petersburg in 1999, removed a part of the brain associated with addiction. 
The programme has so far treated 335 patients, but the prosecutor's office 
in St Petersburg ordered an end to the operations on Monday after a former 
patient won a court case against the institute.

The patient claimed he had suffered headaches as a result of the operation, 
which also failed to cure him of his addiction. The court awarded him the 
cost of the surgery, about UKP5,000. Russian authorities then halted use of 
the procedure on the grounds that it was experimental and had not been 
licensed by the health ministry.

Sergei Pokohmov, the deputy director of the institute, said: "The patient's 
complaints are not serious or true, and the court's decision was made 
without considering any medical expertise."

The patient, known as Alexander L, a student at a military college, became 
a heroin addict in 1997, according to Russian newspaper reports. Mr L's 
family helped him find the money needed for the operation. After surgery, 
he came off heroin for a month, but then started to suffer serious 
headaches. He sought treatment to cure his headaches, and for an infection 
which had set in on the stitches from the operation.

Once he returned to Moscow, he resumed taking heroin. However, Mr L said 
that treatment at a different clinic had cured his addiction in October 2000.

The operation is one of several controversial anti-addiction treatments 
used in Russia. In the technique, a small hole is cut in the scalp, and a 
hole drilled in the skull. The doctors prefer not to put their patient 
under a general anaesthetic so they can monitor their responses as they 
probe the brain. About one cubic millimetre of tissue is taken from each 
hemisphere of the brain.

Some 35% of addicts are reported to be cured straight away by the 
operation. Another 32% take drugs once or twice, but do not renew their 

The institute has appealed against the decision. "Until now we have had no 
complaints about the operation," said Mr Pokohmov. "As with any medical 
procedure, we do not guarantee 100% success."
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