June 18, 2021-More than 600 days after he underwent the experimental surgery, Buckhalter has not touched drugs again — an outcome so outlandishly successful that neither he nor his doctors dared hope it could happen. He is the only person in the United States to ever have substance use disorder relieved by deep brain stimulation. The procedure has reversed Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and a few other intractable conditions, but had never been attempted for drug addiction here.

The device, known as a deep brain stimulator, also is recording the electrical activity in Buckhalter’s brain — another innovation that researchers hope will help locate a biomarker for addiction and allow earlier intervention with other people.

Buckhalter, 35, is a walking, talking laboratory for the outer edge of drug addiction therapy, a living experiment in what may be possible someday.

Yet for all the futuristic prospects, he is also proof of how difficult treatment of addiction remains. Quelling it with a scalpel helps refute the false belief that substance use disorder is a weakness or a moral failing, rather than a brain disease. But it does not address the psychological, social and socioeconomic factors that complicate the disease.


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