Opioid vaccines may make the brain immune to heroin

In Science & Technology
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The devastating grip of opioid abuse and addiction have led to the untimely death of millions of people worldwide. A deadly trap, the aftermath of opioids like heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers reads like a stark inscription on a tombstone:

Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain and includes illicit substances like heroin, legal prescription opioid pain relievers like oxycodone, and “designer” street drugs like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than heroin.

It has been notoriously difficult to address the disastrous health, social and economic effects of opioid abuse and addiction. The leading interventions try to replace heroin and other powerful narcotics with less potent opioids which don’t produce the euphoria of heroin and are less likely to lead to overdose. But drug substitution therapy is expensive and the therapy can be cut short by just one “taste” of heroin or fentanyl, reports Dave Roos for Seeker.

Happily, a novel approach to assist people who struggle with substance abuse is on the horizon.

What if people could be inoculated against the addictive effects of drugs and if that effect could last for months?

That’s right. Addicts could get vaccinated so they become immune to the effects of heroine for months. Who would take a shot, if they knew that it won’t give them the high they’re craving?

Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute have created actual vaccines for heroin and fentanyl that use the body’s own immune system to block addictive chemicals from entering the brain.

Kim Janda, a professor in the departments of chemistry and immunology at Scripps, led the research into the vaccines. The team reported in a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in June the successful synthesis of a vaccine against heroin that showed monkeys remained immune to heroin for up to eight months after inoculation.

This is fantastic news.

Even if human trials are still a way off, this treatment could mean dthe end of the soul-destroying effects of relapse so common with addiction recovery efforts.

“These vaccines are not meant to be taken by the general public, only people who are struggling with a substance abuse disorder. Once an individual is vaccinated, heroin or fentanyl will have no effect on them for months. If they relapse, they’ll feel nothing, and their brain won’t have a chance to get re-hooked,” reports seeker.com.

Here is the deal:

“Vaccines are meant to be used by people who want to quit taking drugs. If you don’t want to stop then nothing will help,” Janda explained to the Guardian.

“The idea is that if they have a moment of weakness, they won’t relapse and can continue with their therapy.”