Ultrasound technology and brain implants offer new hope for those battling addiction

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Gary Carter’s son, Bryant, faced a years-long battle with substance use disorder, he tirelessly searched for ways to help his child, including various treatment centers and Suboxone.

“Eventually, he started doing really well with it. He was a totally changed person. He was excited. For the first time in a long time, we were not fearing that phone call,” Gary said.

Sadly, Bryant did relapse again, and this time it was deadly. Bryant died from fentanyl poisoning in 2018. 

Gary is one of dozens of bereaved parents who have shared their stories on the Emily’s Hope Grieving Out Loud podcast. Fentanyl is now one of the top killers of Americans, and according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 46 million people in the country suffer from substance use disorder.

Now, those people who have tried all sorts of ways to find recovery have another groundbreaking option. CBS News interviewed Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon who is using ultrasound technology and brain implants to help those battling addiction. Having obtained FDA approval in 2019, Dr. Rezai’s innovative approach has shown significant success.

There’s a specific part of the brain that is electrically and chemically malfunctioning that is associated with addiction,” Rezai told CBS News.

During the procedure, an implant is strategically placed in the brain region responsible for behavioral regulation, anxiety, and cravings. Patients remain awake so Rezai and his team can detect the correct area of the brain.

Recognizing the risks of opening the skull, Dr. Rezai also decided to try ultrasound technology, eliminating the need for incisions and providing a non-invasive alternative to traditional brain surgery. In the latest trial, Dr. Rezai and his team employ ultrasound beams directed at a specific point within the brain.

“So the area that we’re treating is the reward center in the brain, which is the nucleus accumbens, which is right down at the base of this dark area,” Rezai told CBS News. “And then we deliver ultrasound waves to that specific part of the brain, and we watch how acutely, on the table, your cravings and your anxiety change in response to ultrasound.”

The procedure, which takes approximately an hour, will hopefully prevent more tragedies like Bryant’s death.

“His battle with substance use disorder was so difficult, but I would do it all over again to have my son back,” Gary said.