RTI International developing medications to treat substance abuse

Research will emphasize military service members and veterans with PTSD and TBI 

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – RTI International will help develop new medications to fight alcohol and substance use disorders, with a special emphasis on helping military service members and veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

The effort is a five-year, $10.8 million initiative funded by the Department of Defense titled the Pharmacotherapies for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Consortium. RTI, along with partners Baylor College of Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, will seek to develop innovative drugs that improve on current treatments.

"Drug and alcohol abuse are a burden on families and individuals, civilian and military alike," said Rick Williams, Ph.D., RTI's principal investigator for the project. "The benefits of our work will extend beyond the active-duty and veteran populations and have far-reaching implications for the general public health."

The project emphasizes stress, anxiety, PTSD and TBI because those conditions often occur along with substance abuse. People who have substance use disorders and PTSD or TBI are likely to have more severe symptoms, an increased risk of suicide, and worse treatment outcomes than those with only one disorder. One aim for the new treatments is that they reduce the tendency for stress to trigger relapses in those with substance use disorders.

Thomas Kosten, M.D., Baylor College of Medicine is the project's co-principal investigator. The scientific peer review that assessed the application for this project award noted that the combination of Williams' experience in biostatistics, study design and management with Dr. Kosten's experience in psychiatry, pharmacology and addiction research "… may be nearly ideal" for this project. 

Military populations face a heavy burden, both in terms of cost and human impact. In 2014, more than 350,000 U.S. veterans dealt with substance abuse, usually involving alcohol, speed or painkillers. Between 2001 and 2006, an estimated 6 to 9 percent of active-duty service members were diagnosed with new substance abuse problems.

RTI and its partners will conduct preclinical studies and Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. They will begin by investigating drugs that are already available from pharmaceutical companies, then move on to compounds that are in earlier stages of development. 

The new Consortium is part of an expanding program of clinical research at RTI concerning PTSD and TBI which include the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, and Effectiveness and Patient Acceptability of Stellate Ganglion Block for Treatment of PTSD Symptoms among Active Duty Military Members.