In the past, vaccines have commonly been associated with preventative measures against illnesses and viruses such as tetanus, the common cold and polio. A recent article in the New York Times now suggesting that a new vaccine could be used in treatment for addiction. Dr. Kim D Janda, a chemist, has spent the past 27 years researching vaccines that would work by causing the immune system to produce antibodies that would shut down narcotics before they bind to the brain receptors or body and thus replacing the effects of the drugs rather than simply blocking them; which is what anti-opiates do.
In July 2011 Dr. Janda, and his lab of 25 researchers, announced a vaccine that blunted the effects of heroin in rats. After this, research on a vaccine for nicotine that was based upon the same as that of the heroin was put to human clinical trials. Unfortunately the trials did not have the desired results; people who received the vaccine quit smoking at the same rate as of those whom received a placebo.
Dr. Janda describes the scientific principles behind his research as “simplistically stupid” with the key difficulty being that molecules such as nicotine, methamphetamine and cocaine are far smaller than those of disease molecules. Hence the immune system ignores them and does not produce the antibodies that Dr. Janda is relying upon for his vaccine to work.
The drug is designed to be administered only to those who already have a present addiction. If administered otherwise one would feel high, the complete opposite of the desired result of the vaccine. The vaccine is reliant upon the immune system recognizing the foreign molecules of drugs and triggering the anti-body response.
My opinion is that this vaccine, when it is ready for use will revolutionize treatment depending however on a few criteria:
How often will it need to be administered? If the vaccine only lasts a short period of time then any addict determined to relapse can simply wait until the vaccine’s effects have finished and not re-take.
Will the vaccine reduce actual cravings for the drugs? Some addicts get somewhat of a ‘high’ on simply the habitual use, by injecting or snorting alone, not just the effects. Some addicts may continue to use and cause damage to their brains and bodies regardless.
Will the vaccine, not only kill the felt effects of drugs such as cocaine or heroin, but also prevent any potential damages to the body from using these drugs. An addict could potentially over-dose from using continuously to attempt to break through the medication and get high.
The vaccine does, I feel, have a potential to completely change how we go about dealing with addiction for the better.
Other injections do currently exist in the field of addiction treatment; Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist that is used in treatment for alcohol dependence or opioid dependence. Naltrexone helps to reduce craving for alcohol and when used for opiates it blocks the effects of the drugs such as heroin or cocaine. The drawback is that naltrexone often has to be taken every day.
Antabuse is a medication used for alcoholism to help prevent relapse. When the alcoholic is not drinking there are no effects from the medication. However, if someone drinks alcohol while taking antabuse the effects range from headaches, vomiting and dizziness. This medication is a preventative medication which decreases any incentive to relapse on alcohol. However if an alcoholic is determined to drink they can either continue while on the medication or simply stop taking the medication. The point is that an alcoholic will not enjoy a relapse when using antabuse and so be less likely to drink in the future.
Other such chemicals like these already exist to tackle addiction relapse. Do you think Dr. Janda’s vaccine can make a big difference with preventative methods already in place?