Health & Wellness

Neuroscientist Shares Research at Drug Crisis Forum in Yorktown

Dr. Stephen Dewey explains the effects of heroin on brain function as shown via PET scans. Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
Dr. Stephen Dewey Credits: Gabrielle Bilik
Susan Salomone, executive director of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard Credits: Gabrielle Bilik

JEFFERSON VALLEY, N.Y. – “Every week I see 90 fourth-grade alcoholics,” said Dr. Stephen Dewey, professor of Molecular Medicine at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and keynote speaker at a drug crisis forum hosted by Drug Crisis in Our Backyard. “They’re 9 and they’re drinking a quart of gin a day.”

The April 6 event, held at Ceola Manor in Jefferson Valley, was held in collaboration with Croton Community Coalition, Cortland Community Coalition and Alliance for Safe Kids. The forum was intended to explore the effects of substance abuse. In addition to speeches and presentations, resource tables were set up with representatives from community support organizations and treatment facilities.

Dewey spoke for an hour about the research he and his team at Northwell have gathered after studying the effects of drug exposure in the brains of volunteers.

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Through positron emission tomography (PET scans), a tracing agent is introduced into the body and a type of gamma ray reveals metabolic processes occurring inside. For instance, when a person shares a memory, researchers can see where that memory is stored in the brain.

“We can look at kids who are dyslexic and see what’s different in their brain,” Dewey said. “We can look at kids who have thought disorders and schizophrenia. It’s kind of really taken off and the data that we have is absolutely amazing in the sense that its teaching us a lot about disease [ and the] brain.”

Much of Dewey’s presentation focused on the effects of drug exposure during development and the pre-existing conditions that lead to addiction in teenagers, such as undiagnosed attention deficit disorders and depression.

In the instance of the 90 alcoholic children, Dewey and his team compared their brains to those of non-alcoholic children of the same age. After a while patterns emerge. Through this type of research, he concluded that often a predisposition for addiction can be pinpointed to one thing.

“Addiction is a disease that is caused by a very simple neurotransmitter—dopamine,” Dewey said.

He followed up with slides that showed the differences between the brains of neurotypical individuals and those affected by disorders that disrupt the brain’s supply of dopamine. Slide-by-slide, Dewey showed the audience a map of addiction, from second-hand exposure to first taste through dependency.

“His research informs treatment,” said Susan Salamone, co-founder of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard. “Right now, we know there’s a lot of [recitation] and treatment that does work, but we need more and his research informs that.”

Salamone said that after seeing Dewey speak at a different event, she knew she had to book him for the forum. She called the event a success.

“I think it was fantastic,” she said. “The information that he gave tonight was something that hasn’t been heard by this audience before anywhere in this area.”

State Sen. Terrence Murphy’s chief of staff, Matt Slater, spoke on Murphy’s behalf and commended everyone for continuing the conversation on addiction.

“We’ve been doing events with Drug Crisis in Our Backyard for quite some time and every time we get together we see a larger and larger crowd,” Slater said. “That’s because the conversation is growing and it’s resonating with more people and folks like yourself are recognizing the importance of the work that Drug Crisis and all of our partners are doing.”

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