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Head op helps addict kick heroin habit
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-05 23:57

Xiao Chen, 34, has battled an addiction to heroin for the past 11 years.

Yet 25 days after an innovative surgical procedure carried out in Guangzhou, he has shown no desire to return to the narcotics which have blighted his life.

The operation was carried out in a local hospital in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, near the city of Foshan where Chen lives.

"It's really amazing. It seems that the memory of the drugs has been wiped from my mind,'' Chen said.

"I'm so delighted and feel so relaxed now,'' he said.

The surgery involved the drilling of a hole in his skull 1 centimetre in diameter. Doctors believe that this procedure effectively cuts out the addict's craving for drugs.

Apart from a lack of sleep for the first few days after the procedure, experts say the treatment has no major side effects.

The surgery cost Chen 35,000 yuan (US$4,070) and requires that he stay in hospital for at least three weeks after the operation. The procedure itself took just two hours.

Chen was brought by his father to the Guangdong 999 Neural Surgery Hospital on February 2, and underwent the operation a week later.

Revealing the extent of Chen's cravings, father Chen Shaotai said: "He even escaped from the hospital on his second day after arriving.''

But medical staff have been delighted with his progress: "He recovered very well after the operation,'' said Yang Lirong, the doctor in charge of his care regime.

Health staff say Chen's intelligence quotient (IQ) is also on the way to returning to its original level of 130.

"Chen's IQ test was 120-plus Friday,'' Yang said.Three days after the operation, it was assessed to be just 50.

Since 2001, 18 patients have received similar treatment for addiction at the hospital. They range in age from teenagers to seniors in their 60s.

The hospital's executive director, Xu Dezhi, said: "The first such operation was carried out on January 16, 2001. Since then we have put more focus on research and development and less on carrying out the operation.''

He said the rapid post-op improvement in patients and the high success rate in helping addicts kick the habit were the two major advantages of the technique.

According to doctors, of the 18 patients who have undergone the procedure to date, only one had relapsed. It is believed the influence of drug-using friends played a major role.

Said Xu: "We can help the drug users physically and psychologically, but we are helpless regarding such social factors.''

Addicts suffering heart disease, hypertension and those aged over 60 are not suitable for the operation.

It is believed the hospital is the only one of its type in China capable of carrying out the procedure.

The hospital is the first in China to introduce the encephalic localizer machine needed for the procedure. It was imported from the United States at a cost of more than 300 million yuan (US$34.88 million), Xu said.

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