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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on substance use disorders

April 6, 2018

In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month, our focus is on research that looks at substance use disorders.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance Use Disorders Fact Sheet Substance use and abuse, with its associated health consequences, is a major public health problem. Substance use disorders (SUDs) include dependencies on alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs, and nicotine. SUDs have substantial negative consequences on Veterans' mental and physical health, work performance, housing status, and social function. VA supports a broad portfolio of research looking at substance abuse prevention, screening, and treatment.

VA Research Infographics

Cannabis use among U.S. VeteransCannabis use among U.S. Veterans

Results based on responses from a representative sample of 2,587 Veterans who took part in the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

VA Research Quarterly Update

Helping Veterans safely stop long-term opioid use

Dr. Joseph Frank is a primary care physician and researcher at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Denver. His research is focused on improving the safety and effectiveness of chronic pain care for Veterans. As a physician, he is particularly interested in how VA can provide chronic pain care in primary care settings. (March 6, 2018)

Improving outcomes among inpatients with alcohol use disordersImproving outcomes among inpatients with alcohol use disorders

Dr. Christine Timko is a research scientist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. She will study the effectiveness of a new treatment to help Veterans with alcohol use disorders who transition from the hospital to an outpatient setting. (March 6, 2018)

Brief screening key to referral for VA chronic pain treatmentBrief screening key to referral for VA chronic pain treatment
Researchers Drs. Steve Martino and Marc Rosen are conducting a study that will use the VA compensation and pension exam as a way to reach Veterans who are applying for a service-connected disability. The study is part of a larger grant designed to investigate non-drug approaches to pain management within the DoD and VA. (Dec. 12, 2017)

VA Research News Briefs

Intestinal fungi play role in alcoholic liver disease

Intestinal fungi play role in alcoholic liver disease - Photo: ©iStock/ksassPhoto: ©iStock/ksass

Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to an imbalance of intestinal fungi, which in turn can lead to chronic liver disease, according to a study that included researchers from the VA San Diego Healthcare System. In mice, alcohol consumption increased the amount of fungus in the intestines, and also allowed the fungus to travel to other parts of the body. This increased the likelihood of liver disease. Treating the mice with antifungal drugs reduced the fungal overgrowth. The researchers also studied human patients, and found that those with alcohol dependence had lower fungal diversity and too much of one specific fungus. The people with this fungal imbalance had higher mortality rates. While several types of fungi naturally occur in the human intestine, they can cause harm if they spread to other parts of the body. The results show that alcohol affects levels of intestinal fungi and that controlling these fungi levels may help treat alcohol-related liver disease, say the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Investigation, May 22, 2017)

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VA Research Currents

Research rocks for homeless Vets at the Louisville VAResearch rocks for homeless Vets at the Louisville VA

A pilot study at the Louisville VA in Kentucky showed the therapeutic benefit of rocking chairs for homeless Veterans in treatment for substance abuse problems, mainly alcohol addiction. (02/08/2018)

Heavy versus light drinking: What are the relative effects on performance years later?Heavy versus light drinking: What are the relative effects on performance years later?

Heavy drinkers develop behavioral tolerance to alcohol over time on some fine motor tasks, but not on more complex tasks, suggests a study led by a VA San Diego Healthcare System researcher. (04/10/2017)

Voices of VA Research Podcast Series

Dr. Stefan KerteszSeverely limiting opioid prescriptions may harm pain patients

VA Research Communications speaks with Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an internal medicine physician who works primarily with Veterans experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder. In addition to conducting research on interventions for homelessness and substance use disorder, Kertesz has written extensively on the problem of opioid addiction and the movement to severely restrict opioid prescriptions. (08-29-2017)

Dr. Michael CucciareBrief Interventions for Substance Use Disorders in Veterans with Hep C

VA Research Communications speaks with Dr. Michael Cucciare, associate director for research training at the south central MIRECC in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Cucciare is the principle investigator for the VA-funded study "Web-based Intervention to Reduce Alcohol Use in Veterans with Hepatitis C." (04-19-2017)

VA Media Reports

Prescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic painPrescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic pain (KQED)

In one of the most rigorous clinical trials of opioid painkillers to date, VA researchers found that the drugs did no better than non-opioid medications at bringing relief and boosting function for Veterans with chronic pain. The study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. David Reuben of UCLA told the Associated Press, "This is a very important study [that] will likely change the approach to managing long-term back, hip and knee pain." (03/07/2018)

For opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detoxFor opiate addiction, study finds drug-assisted treatment is more effective than detox(The Los Angeles Times)

VA researchers were part of a team from the U.S. and Canada that compared two ways of treating opiate addiction. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, focused on Californians. It found that using drugs to treat opiate addiction—such as methadone or buprenorphine—is more cost-effective than medically supervised detox programs. (11/21/2017)

Marijuana doesn’t hurt young kidneys

VA researchers and colleagues determined that long-term marijuana use does not appear to harm kidney function in young adults. The analysis, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The findings were covered by WebMD and other media outlets. (08/30/2017)

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