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CoastLine: Genetic Mutations Could Contribute to Opioid Dependency

Dr. Andrew Farah, Chief of Psychiatry at the High Point Division of the University of North Carolina Health Care System; Author, Hemingway's Brain

It’s not news that the Cape Fear region suffers from some of the highest numbers per capita of people addicted to heroin and opioids.  In response to what’s now commonly “the opioid crisis”, law enforcement strategies have changed, with officers carrying the anti-overdose drug Naloxone and authorities looking to put more offenders into treatment instead of jail. 

At least one North Carolina advocacy group, NC Harm Reduction, passes out clean needles, doses of naloxone, and information to people with addictions with no judgment and no requirements.  Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo convened a Legislative Task Force two years ago to address the problem.   Just last week, local leaders announced the Cape Fear Opiate Overdose Quick Response Team.  This brings Coastal Horizons, a local resource and counseling center, together with first responders.  If the pilot program is successful, it could be replicated in other cities. 

But today, we’re coming at the opioid crisis from a slightly different perspective. 

Earlier this year, North Carolina researchers published a paper in the Journal of Addictions and Therapies that shows one genetic marker, methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase – or MTHFR – present in 90% of patients who struggle with opioid dependency.  The same researchers theorize improvement in patients with other neuropsychiatric diseases, such as depression or dementia, through a specific cluster of B vitamins, could show promise for patients suffering from opioid addiction.


Dr. Andrew Farah, Chief of Psychiatry at the High Point Division of the University of North Carolina Health Care System; Author, Hemingway's Brain

Editor's note:  Dr. Farah's contention that use of marijuana can be harmful generated some controversy during the program.  Below is a link to his paper, Cannabis Induced Psychopathology, published in March 2017: 


Dr. Farah's study, The Prevalence and Role of MTHFR Polymorphisms in Opiate Dependencies, discussed on CoastLine is here.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR