Heroin Vaccination: Clinical Trials on Human Subjects is the Next Step

More than 15 million people use opioid drugs, including types of opiates such as heroin, morphine, or opium, as well as oxycodone or other prescription medications. All create tremendous problems for users and for society in general, but in the last few years, heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions, killing an ever-increasing number of overdose victims in the United States around the world.

Scientists at Scripps Institute in La Jolla, California think an anti-heroin vaccine may be on the horizon, after early studies with nonhuman primates have been successful. Researchers are hopeful that studies with humans will proceed in the near future.

The study follows eight years of clinical testing involving rodents. Human testing is the next logical step, as the biological makeup of humans and non-human primates are so similar.

Training the Immune System

The drug works by training the immune system to produce antibodies that work against heroin by preventing users from experiencing heroin-induced euphoria. Once the body’s immune system is exposed to the drug, the new antibodies will latch on to the heroin molecules, blocking them before they reach the brain. There were no adverse side effects.

Hopefully, the absence of a heroin “high” will remove motivation for taking the drug. Researchers think it may be especially effective for addicts in treatment, boosting the success rate by decreasing the chance of relapse.

The vaccine was effective for up to eight months, although the anti-heroin effects were strongest during the first 30 days. If the drug works as hoped, it will produce a long-term immunity in humans.

No Magic Solutions

The vaccine isn’t a magic solution. Although it can be used in conjunction with methadone or suboxone addiction treatment, the vaccine is effective for heroin only and is of no use against opium, morphine, or addiction to prescription drugs.

This may be a sticking point, as an addict experiencing severe cravings may turn to other opiates as a replacement. Still, experts think the vaccine may be a valuable tool when used in conjunction with drug and alcohol treatment or rehab, especially during the early days of detox and withdrawal.

Researchers are currently going through the lengthy process of attaining corporate sponsors needed to bring the vaccine to clinical studies involving human subjects.

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