UK drug related deaths are at their highest since records began. There were 4,359 registered drug related deaths in 2018 and of these, 51% involved heroin. Drug users say that using drugs can feel automatic and uncontrollable which may be due to what happens in the brain when craving is triggered. This can lead to accidental overdose. It would be helpful if craving could be immediately reduced but currently we do not know enough about how craving works.
Similar to how asthmatics use an inhaler when breathing becomes difficult, we believe it may be possible to use a nasal spray of oxytocin to reduce craving when it happens. Oxytocin is a non-addictive naturally produced hormone that helps manage the part of our brain which becomes over active when people crave but heroin users are unable to naturally regulate oxytocin.
We will recruit 30 current heroin users on methadone or buprenorphine from drug treatment services in Surrey and see them four times in total. Each visit lasts around an hour. We will pay for travel on each visit and give shopping vouchers on the last visit to thank them for taking part. We will show them a video of a man injecting heroin to trigger craving. People will be given oxytocin and placebo on 2 separate visits, asked to self report on cravings and take an attention test. Everyone will be given take home Naloxone, which reverses overdose, and interviewed on the last visit about their experience of craving.
The study is confidential and anonymous. Results will be published in journals, presented at conferences, shared across social media and events where service users, professionals and public will be invited. This studies duration is 13 months and we hope to find evidence so we can run a bigger study for much longer in the future.
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