In the summer of 1982, hospital emergency rooms in the San Francisco Bay Area were suddenly confronted with mysteriously “frozen” patients – young men and women who, though conscious, could neither move nor speak. Doctors were baffled, until neurologist J. William Langston, recognizing the symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s disease, administered L-dopa – the only known effective treatment – and “unfroze” his patient. Dr. Langston determined that this patient and five others had all used the same tainted batch of synthetic heroin, inadvertently laced with a toxin that had destroyed an area of their brains essential to normal movement. This same area, the substantia nigra, slowly deteriorates in Parkinson’s disease.
As scientists raced to capitalize on this breakthrough, Dr. Langston struggled to salvage the lives of his frozen patients, for whom L-dopa provided only short-term relief. The solution he found lay in the most daring area of research: fetal-tissue transplants. The astonishing recovery of two of his patients garnered worldwide press coverage, helped overturn federal restrictions on fetal-tissue research, and offered hope to millions suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other degenerative brain disorders.
This is the story behind the headline – a spellbinding account that brings to life the intellectual excitement, ethical dilemmas, and fierce competitiveness of medical research. This new updated edition of the classic neurological mystery tale, “The Case of the Frozen Addicts,” illuminates how the solution to a baffling mystery of the brain’s chemistry opened a new frontier in medicine and restored life to people without hope.
“It begins with a series of quixotic discoveries, escalates to providing possible solutions for one of humanity’s most intractable medical problems, and then catapults the reader into the center of America’s hottest political arena – abortion and fetal sanctity. Bravo! A brilliant read.” – Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague
“I could not put it down… it is the lives of the ‘frozen addicts’ themselves – and the fullness with which this is presented – which makes the whole thing overwhelming.” – Oliver Sacks
“[Langston and Palfreman] weave a highly readable and spellbinding medical detective tale… It is as absorbing as a good mystery, as entertaining as an exciting novel, and as enlightening as a good biography.” – Stanley Fahn, New England Journal of Medicine
While the story told in this book arose directly from the experiences of one of its authors, Bill Langston, we decided nevertheless to write the book in the third person. This gave us more freedom to handle the complexities of the plot, and to include key events at which Bill Langston was not present.
The events described in this book are based on hundreds of documents gathered between 1982 and 1995 and on extensive interviews with all the major participants. Where unwitnessed or unrecorded personal exchanges have been cast in dialogue form, the participants have had an opportunity to see the passages to check that they are a fair depiction of what actually occurred. For legal reasons, some of the names of those involved in illegal drug manufacture have been changed.
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