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Addiction researchers present findings to criminal justice leaders

County judges, the county probation chief, the director of San Antonio Fighting Back and other leaders crowded into County Court at Law No. 5 at the Bexar County Justice Center on Feb. 6 to hear a presentation about a new era in rehabilitation for individuals battling alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The presenters were Bankole A. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., Wurzbach Distinguished Professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and director of the university's Southwest Texas Addiction Research and Technology Center (START); Nassima Ait-Daoud, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and START researcher; and even the START patients themselves.

The discussion focused on ondansetron and other alcoholism treatments under development at the START Center. Dr. Johnson told judges that the START Center is developing the techniques and medications that can be harnessed in the near future by the justice system to reach previously intractable alcohol users and return them to status as productive members of society. "We can be a resource for you to implement these programs through community agencies," he said.

Dr. Johnson debuted a START Center video, "The Disease of Addiction," that features two patients as well as Drs. Johnson and Ait-Daoud. Deborah Van Damme, START research associate, wrote and produced the video. The patients discussed their newfound freedom from the dominance of alcohol in their lives. Many START patients have been helped by ondansetron, which is one of four drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcoholism. Three of the four drugs were developed in San Antonio, Dr. Johnson said.

The Honorable Tim Johnson, County Court at Law 5; The Honorable Sarah Garrahan, County Court at Law 4; and The Honorable Michael Mery, County Court at Law 12, asked questions and presented their insights. Several district court judges also attended. Other participants included Beverly Watts-Davis, director of San Antonio Fighting Back; Cesar Garcia, chief of community supervision and corrections for Bexar County; and Dr. David Abbott, director of the medical psychiatric section of community supervision and corrections. The meeting and future meetings might provide a bridge between criminal justice and community and hospital treatment providers, participants indicated.

Developments from the START Center can serve as a launching pad to make improvements in the handling of DWI and other offenders, Dr. Johnson said.

Contact: Will Sansom