While local, state, and federal officials are rapidly scrambling to find solutions to the opioid epidemic, science is working equally as hard. Much of the root of addiction lies in biology. Drugs, after all, affect the brain first and foremost. Those of us in recovery know that addiction also takes a spiritual, mental, and emotional toll, but addressing the physical danger of addiction would go a long way towards helping to stop this crisis.
Possible Vaccine for Addiction
Recent research presented at the American Chemical Society’s annual conference in Washington, DC, reveals promising data concerning a possible vaccine for addiction. Yes, you read that right. Much like humans can be vaccinated against diseases like smallpox and tetanus, there may one day be a vaccine that could prevent the disease of addiction. A research group led by Dr. Kim Janda at the Scripps Research Institute gave a presentation at the ACS meeting, highlighting the work they are doing and possible future implications. The team has developed a vaccine that is effective in preventing fentanyl addiction, and are currently working on a combination vaccine that would also protect against heroin addiction. This is no small feat, as the chemistry of these drugs (including a very small size) makes them difficult to immunize against. But by linking the drug to larger molecules, they believe they might be getting close. The vaccine has supposedly showed some efficacy in monkeys.
It is important to highlight the differences between this vaccine and a drug like methadone, which attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and prevents drugs from binding to it and causing their effect. This vaccine actually prompts the body to create antibodies (cells that fight other cells) that would directly attack the heroin or fentanyl and stop them from reaching the intended receptors. The specific nature of the vaccine would also allow it to be used with methadone or other drugs, making it extra insurance against overdoses. The group also has some data on an amphetamine-specific vaccine.
We are a long way from this being a realistic possibility for humans, as they are far from even beginning clinical trials, and the clinical trial/FDA approval process can take years to produce an approved vaccine. But the work is being done, and it is reassuring to know that some of the world’s top researchers are hard at work, trying to help people on a much broader level than is currently possible.