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Treating the End-Stage Drug User

End-Stage Drug User

Treating the End-Stage Drug User

Dr. Rezal first came to 60 Minutes attention back in 2002, when Morley Safer opened his gift for treating Parkinson’s Disease. The good doctor “was among the first to implant a pacemaker-type device in the brain which the stopped uncontrollable movements suffered by Parkinson’s patients.” Like then, his treatment was considered ground-breaking. Unlike then though, he was relatively new at the game.

Not so now. As Executive Chair of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, in Morgantown, West Virginia, he runs one of the most esteemed outfits in American medicine. He’s also at the forefront of anything having to do with the brain.

That’s why 60 Minutes recently got back with the good doctor This time though it’s not Parkinson’s he’s addressing, but Alzheimer’s, which affects nearly seven million Americans.

In addition to his work with Alzheimer’s patients, Dr. Rezai allowed 60 minutes “to see his latest research over the last year at the Institute . It includes revolutionary treatments for a brain disease suffered by 24 million Americans – addiction. The results so far have been life changing for the people we met once trapped by drugs.”

First up was Gerod Buckhalter, who admitted he “didn’t have a chance.” Why? Because he “couldn’t do anything without having that drug–um in my system.”

The 6 foot 3 son of a coal miner was a high school football standout. in fact, he dreamed of playing wide receiver at Penn State. But after a shoulder injury, he got hooked on painkillers.

“The very first time that I– that I took that first pill, um — I– I knew that I wanted that feeling for the rest of my life,” he told 60 Minutes’ Sharyn Alfonsi.

“What did it feel like?”

“Pure euphoria.”

End-Stage Drug User

Buckhalter spent 15 years ripping and running. He does not remember how many times he overdosed or that he couldn’t stay clean for more than four days at a time.

“I didn’t know where I was gonna sleep some nights,” he said. “You know, my family didn’t want me around anymore. I just– I did so many things to hurt them that, you know, it was just too much for them to deal with.”

Four years ago, a psychologist introduced him to Dr. Ali Rezai, who was gearing up to perform a new kind of brain surgery to treat severe addiction. The protocol? People that have failed everything.

“Everything,” reiterated Dr. Rezai. “Residential programs, multiple failures, detox multiple times, outpatient, inpatient, multiple overdoses.”

“I think he classified it as– end-stage drug user,” Buckhalter said.

“I mean, end stage makes you think that this is the end of your life,” added Alfonsi.

“Correct,” said Buckhalter. “And hearing that at the age of 34 um, it – it was crazy.”

Crazy, indeed.

Crazy enough to agree to an experimental brain implant that would treat the disease. Besides, how bad could it be? The National Institute on Drug Abuse agreed to support Dr. Rezai’s work and in 2019, the FDA gave him a green light to attempt the groundbreaking surgery.

With that, Buckhalter agreed to become Dr. Rezai’s very first end-stage drug user patient.
“At that time I was so desperate for a better life that I was willing to do just about anything” he said.

When they turned on the unit, it was an immediate change,” said Buckhalter.

“What was the change?,” asked Alfonsi.

It just felt better. You know, just felt like I did prior to ever using drugs, but a little bit better. And it was at that point that I knew that I was gonna have a legitimate shot at doing well.

In all – four patients with severe drug addiction had the implant surgery. One had a minor relapse. Another dropped out of the trial completely. But two have been drug free since their operations, including Buckhalter, whose been clean for four years.

Healing Properties

Healing Properties thanks Dr. Ali R. Rezai and his team at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute in Morgantown, West Virginia for cutting the edge on addiction treatment, especially for the end-stage drug user. Too many times, too many people have given up on those who’ve repeatedly “failed” at recovery. It’s great to know that someone now had their back.

We’d also like to thank Sharyn Alfonsi and 60 Minutes for delivering such a compelling story. No surprise really, considering the show has done nothing but deliver compelling television since its inception, 56 seasons ago. A great big Thanks! and Congratulations! to Gerod Buckhalter. We’re grateful for you sharing your inspiring story, and we wish you the absolute best with your recovery.

If you’ve got substance abuse issues please pick up the phone and call someone. Help is out there.

Image courtesy the good folks at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),

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