The drug treatment community may soon be rocked by a new weapon in the war on addiction. Vaccines for methamphetamine, nicotine, heroin and cocaine are all progressing and look to be a viable option in the future.
For many years addiction treatment had two options. There were different forms of talk therapy and drug treatments like methadone. Talk therapy is very effective but it requires people to stick with it for the therapy to work while methadone does not treat the underlying addiction and simply acts as a substitute for the drug.
Vaccines would negate much of the need for drug treatments because of how they work. Traditional drug therapies mimicked the drug they treated to prevent intense cravings. They also blocked receptors in the brain which prevented drug users from achieving a high if they used drugs on top of their drug treatment. Vaccines on the other hand actually turn the human body into a weapon against the drug. Rather than blocking it from reaching the brain, vaccines tell the immune system to attack the drug as soon as it enters the body.
This form of treatment has several advantages over traditional drug treatments. It works much longer with some vaccines working for months. It also helps prevent overdose by destroying the drug rather than letting it linger in the system. Researchers have given rats lethal doses of heroin after administering the vaccine. The rats were completely unaffected and continued running about their cage normally. All this means that scientists can use the body’s natural defences to tackle a drug addiction and fight overdose.
That is not to say that the vaccines are the only necessary part of treatment. Researchers have said time and again that any vaccine is just a part of a good treatment plan for ending addiction. Talk therapy and other treatments will still be necessary to target the root of the addiction and deal with the emotional issues surrounding drug use. The hope is to combine these therapies with vaccines to create a more effective treatment regimen and improve success rates for people in recovery. The talk therapy will provide the tools needed to stay clean and the vaccine will provide a safety net for newly recovering addicts who may backslide.
The new vaccines will still take some time to perfect but many researchers are hopeful that some of the more promising vaccines will make it to human trials soon.
To learn more about drug addiction, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre.