NEUROSCIENCE: DRUGS AND THE BRAIN, WE KNOW NOW WHAT THE INTERVENTION AREA SHALL BE Genetic and epigenetic studies make us understand much earlier the existence of specific risk factors and of vulnerability to addiction

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“If in the era of Lucrezia Borgia unknown substances were used to kill people, nowadays, the modes of preparation and dissemination have changed, but the underlying principle is still the same: the victim is poisoned without being aware of it”. We have opened with a daring comparison, but it is dramatically topical for those young people who currently use drugs, for the first day of the 53° World Congress of the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists, organized and chaired by Professor Elizabeth Bertol, the head of the University structure of forensic toxicology in Florence.

At the appointment shall participate scientists from 64 nations, with a section dedicated to young researchers. The topics in forensic toxicology that will be discussed – stressed Prof. Bertol – involve the damage resulting from abuse of alcohol and narcotics, and the dangers related to driving and in the workplaces. We will focus especially on the new and powerful psychoactive substances and their great and worrying spread among young people, but also on anti-doping issues.

Recent news about young people killed by unknown drugs  in discos and rave parties brought attention back to the topic of increasingly early and precise identification of drugs. The deadly cocktail between the fact that they are easy to find on the information web, to alter substances and to employ the same means in order to deliver them quickly to the world, puts in the hands of the final consumer, who is very often an adolescent, drugs that are difficult to identify and, therefore, are extremely dangerous; this triggers a further problem which is that of the impossibility for the doctors to intervene immediately and successfully in order to contrast intoxication and save lives.

We are in a historical period in which organized crime moves an undergrowth of pseudo-scientists/chemists to experience, at the expense of the young people, all kinds of toxicological theories. It is, therefore, urgent to invest as soon as possible in research, because we are already lagging behind if compared to organized crime.

Therefore, this meeting in Florence becomes of fundamental importance, since it sees international researchers trying to urgently map through the experiences of each country, the paths of the drugs.

For this reason, the University of Florence has been the first one in Europe to enable a new unit of advanced research in “neuroscience & neuroimaging dependencies and forensic toxicology” (URITRON) to understand ever more in depth the harm new and old drugs cause to the brain. All this is to be able to find more advanced solutions not only in the field of early diagnosis, but also for prevention and treatment.

“Only by knowing the secrets of the brain and its functioning under the effect of drugs we can prevent and treat these diseases,” says Prof. John Serpelloni, senior scientific tutor of the new research unit. “The images obtained with the help of magnetic resonance functional at a high field, show us the areas of desire for drugs and those that can check the impulses to consume it.

For the first time we know precisely on what to work. Also genetic and epigenetic studies make us understand much earlier the existence of specific risk factors and of vulnerability to addiction, so as to be able to take action at a young age (even 4-5-years) merely with education and support to the family. Those interventions have proved to be very effective”.

”I am convinced that this innovative and high-level Congress will be a honour for our city and for all those scientists who are going to partake in it”, declares Prof. Elisabetta Bertol, the president of the Congress; ”to make the point of the situation concerning all the new toxic substances as well as the most advanced research in order to find them out as soon as possible, will allow us to find more and more efficient solution, giving an input to the international research in toxicology, also for legal purposes.

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