Neuroscience and Society: The Opioid Epidemic

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Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/index.html

“We’ve moved from an epidemic to a crisis” in opioid abuse in the United States, said Daniel Ciccarone, M.D., MPH, during a panel discussion at AAAS in Washington, DC, this week. Ciccarone, a doctor at University of California, San Francisco, who treats addicted people and does research, described a pattern of intertwined waves involving abuse of prescription pills, heroin, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

For example, while overdose deaths due to prescription pill use are spread relatively evenly across the country, “this is not true for heroin,” Ciccarone said. The Northeast has had troubles with opioid abuse for a generation, while in the Midwest, numbers have jumped just recently. And while older folks (50-64) are using pills in greater numbers, it’s younger people (20-35) driving heroin use.

“Heroin itself is becoming more and more dangerous,” he said, especially when it is laced with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil (used to tranquilize elephants). People who stop breathing after using these stronger concoctions often don’t respond to emergency treatments like naloxone.

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2017 World Science Festival

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The World Science Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary this year and is once again offering a great series of programs. From May 30 to June 4 in New York City, you can attend events ranging from a trivia night on mummies to a panel talk on the biggest questions in cosmology.

Of course, we’re most interested in the brain-related events, and they don’t disappoint. On Wednesday, May 31, psychologists and neuroscientists will tackle creativity and artificial intelligence–can computers be creative? Friday, June 2, a panel will explore brain development and the roots of human social connections. On the last day of the festival, attendees will hear an update on the Human Connectome Project. Two Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives members will present at this event: neurobiologist David Van Essen, author of a 2016 Cerebrum article on the connectome, and developmental neurobiologist Jeff W. Lichtman.

Tickets are on sale now and sell out quickly! And stay tuned for coverage of some of the events on this blog.

Free Public Event: The Opioid Epidemic

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Image: Shutterstock

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with overdoses and deaths caused by prescribed and “street” drugs on the rise. The accelerating abuse of opioids includes not only painkillers that have legitimate uses, but heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl as well. The epidemic is not limited to inner city pockets of poverty; small-town America is also overcome by a tsunami of opioid addiction, putting strains on state and local social services and criminal justice systems. Join us for an event that will address the demographics and sociology of the opioid epidemic, the science of opioid addiction, and treatment options.
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Brain Day at NYU!

After being re-scheduled due to inclement weather, New York University’s Brain Day at NYU Langone Medical Center took place last Thursday, April 13th as part of BraiNY and the Dana Alliance’s celebration of Brain Awareness Week. The event included a Brain Fair in the breezeway where various booths demonstrated experiments and provided information on the brain. There were also models of brains to examine and play with, and some free Dana Alliance materials and publications, too!

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This year’s Brain Fair at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and the Future

Most people first heard the word “avatar” from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the top grossing films of all time. Some consider avatars an extension of the self that can save the world in the context of virtual reality or a video game. In Hinduism, avatars are considered incarnations of deities or immortals. The Hindu god Vishnu, for example, has many avatars, including the Buddha.

Helping to sort out the avatar conundrum and the fascinating field of artificial intelligence was a Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC last Wednesday night. The program—“A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,”— began with a head-spinning question: “Can machines and other avatars expand the human experience—and perhaps even take our minds to the stars?”

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