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China bans brain surgery to cure drug addicts
Updated: 2005-04-19 15:06

China's health ministry has banned controversial brain operations to cure drug addicts due to concerns over harmful side-effects and a lack of scientific studies on the practice, Xinhua news agency said.

A man walks in front of a light box with Chinese writing that reads 'Severe Damage of Drug' at an anti-drugs exhibition in Shanghai in 2003. [AFP]

"The ministry will not resume the surgery until a comprehensive and scientific evaluation is given to the safety and effectiveness of the practice and a technical standard is established," health ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an told Xinhua news agency.

Curing drug addiction through brain surgery was suspended in China last November, with evaluation and discussion over the potential side effects among medical experts leading to Monday's ban, the report said.

More than 500 operations have been conducted across the country since a hospital in southern Guangdong province received authorisation to perform the surgery in 2000.

The operations, pioneered by Russian scientists in 1999, remove a part of the brain associated with drug cravings.

"Practicing brain surgery on patients is unethical and irresponsible," Xinhua quoted an unnamed health ministry official as saying.

"Its safety, effectiveness and suitability needs long-term monitoring and has to pass stringent scientific tests," the report said.

Doctors say the operations could cause many side effects including the loss of sex drive, the Beijing News reported in November when the surgeries were suspended.

"We need more time -- five to 10 years -- to find the real overall effect of the surgery," Li Yongjie, director of the functional neurosurgery department of Xuanwu hospital in Beijing, was quoted as saying.

Li said the success rate of such operations in some countries outside China was only about 60 percent.

The practice was banned in Russia in 2002 after a patient claimed he had suffered headaches as a result of the operation, which also failed to cure him of his addiction.

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