A University of Minnesota professor on Wednesday night provided a hopeful glimpse at potential new therapies for drug addiction.

Dr. Mark Thomas with the Department of Neuroscience at the U of M Medical School spoke to an audience of a few dozen people in the Red Wing Public Library. He described laboratory research on rodents designed to better understand brain patterns associated with addiction. "Because if we discover what they are, we can think about ways to intervene and disrupt craving and relapse," Thomas said.

Though he cautioned that any possible therapies for humans would still be years away, Thomas said neurostimulation experiments using pulses of light have reversed the effects of opioids in rat brains.

"We feel like we've got a really good pathway to try to take data like these and turn them into something that could be useful for people," he said.

Thomas is the scientific director of the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction, a state-funded research effort at the U of M focused on substance abuse. Other avenues of research for the team include non-addictive pain relief and a vaccine to counter the negative effects of opioids on the brain and prevent overdoses.

The team's goal, he said, is addressing the demand side of drug addiction, rather than the supply side.

Jean Benson of Lake City attended Wednesday's discussion. She said she came away from the event feeling hopeful.

"There's a lot of drugs in the area, and it's nice to know that something is being done locally to try to work on it," she said.

Drug court

The discussion was a follow-up to the Needles and Pills program held in 2018 that brought together experts and community resources to address drug problems in Goodhue County. Efforts led to securing a nearly $500,000 federal grant for a drug treatment court.

Kait Olmsted, the new drug court's administrator, was in attendance Wednesday to provide an update on the program since it started in mid-April. She said the aim is to provide a network of support for nonviolent drug offenders and reduce recidivism.

"We're not going to send these defendants to prison - we are going to help," Olmsted said, such as providing assistance with finding employment and housing.

The court can support 25 participants, and at least six spots have been filled so far, she said.

Olmsted added that the goal of the drug court over the next four years of the federal grant is to help as many participants as possible and make a case for continued state and county funding.

Find help

Resources for substance use disorder are available at www.fast-trackermn.org.