The widespread abuse of opioids has become a nationwide crisis in the United States.
The drug is so addictive that of the 20.5 million Americans that had substance abuse disorders in 2015, over 2 million involved prescription pain relievers, and 591,000 had substance abuse disorders involving heroin.
Opioids accounted for nearly half of all drug-related deaths in 2015, causing drug overdose to be the leading cause of accidental death in the nation.
Despite attempts to curb the prevalence of opioid abuse, the epidemic is growing at frightening speeds. It is projected that if the use of opioids continues to accelerate at the current rate, the drug could kill nearly half a million people across America over the next decade.
There are many forms of treatment for opioid dependency, including stepping down dosage via the controlled use of methadone under medical supervision. Unfortunately, there has never been an antidote proven to cure the addiction, that is, until now.
Researchers at Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), have developed a vaccine that after being administered, successfully blocks the “high” of heroin for up to 8 months.
It teaches the immune system to produce antibodies against heroin, and the psychoactive products within it that cause the high users experience. The vaccine exposes the immune system to part of the heroin molecule’s structure.
After that, when heroin is introduced into the system again, the newly created antibodies target it, neutralizing the heroin molecules. Users, don’t feel the euphoria from heroin because the heroin molecules are blocked before they can reach the brain.
“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” study leader Kim Janda said in a statement. “We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials.”
The hope is that the vaccine can be used to treat heroin addicts, by removing the high they get from the drug and their motivation for taking the drug at all. The goal is to help prevent relapses in addicts recovering from addiction.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, looked only at heroin, the same logic can be applied for all opioids.
They hope to license the vaccine to a third-party partner and continue clinical trials.
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