In recent years scientists have come up with potential vaccines for a number of drugs. This includes several vaccines for cocaine. Most of these treatments focused on blocking receptors in the brain to prevent cocaine from eliciting its usual euphoric high. A new vaccine though works with bacteria to use a person’s own immune system to destroy cocaine before it can trigger a high.
The vaccine, which was recently shown to be effective in mice, works by combining cocaine with a save form of bacteria which triggers an immune response in humans. The idea is simply. The human body is tricked into thinking it is under attack when it detects cocaine. In response it releases a signal to its defences to destroy all the cocaine. The immune system takes over and any cocaine in the body is quickly identified and destroyed.
This response is so quick that the body can remove most cocaine before it ever takes effect on the user. What little gets through is usually not enough to trigger the high the user is looking for.
While this type of vaccination could be very effective as a part of cocaine addiction treatment there is a portion of the addiction treatment community that sees vaccines as missing the point of addiction treatment.
They argue that a vaccine may dull or even negate the effects of a drug on the user but it does not address the root cause of the addiction. In other words, vaccines treat a symptom of a disease but the underlying illness is still present.
While this is a valid point, a vaccine could still be used as a part of treatment. Scientists point out that it would be helpful for people receiving outpatient treatment as a defence against relapse. It could also be used as a way to help people who abuse cocaine but may not have an addiction.
The hope is that a vaccine would provide something like a second line of defence for cocaine addicts. Their first defence would be the skills they learn in therapy which help them cope with negative emotions and provide alternatives to using. If these skills are not enough though, a vaccine could help someone who relapses.