There has been a lot of improvement when it comes to the tools that physicians have for treating opiate addiction. One of the most dependable tools is a drug called naltrexone, which reduces cravings and can make it very difficult for someone to feel the effects of opiates if they do take them. Naloxone is used to alleviate an overdose of opiates, and has saved thousands of lives as it has become more widely available. Suboxone can be an effective way to help someone coming off opiates to break the habits and behaviors associated with addiction, can prevent symptoms of withdrawal, and more. But what if there was a way to vaccinate someone from opiate use? That’s the question scientists at Scripps Research Institute in California have been asking.
So far, experiments have only been done in rats, but preliminary results are promising. Researchers start by providing rats with heroin – a lot of heroin. As much heroin as these rats would like. Then they slowly wean the rats off of it during a four week long detoxification stage, and administer a vaccine to half the rats (while providing a placebo to the other half of the rats). The vaccine literally causes the rats bodies to mount an immune system response against the heroin, attacking it as if it was a disease pathogen and fighting against it. Once heroin is reintroduced to all of the rats’ environment, those that had been provided a placebo start to partake once again. Rats that have taken the vaccine do not.
Clinical trials in humans are currently under way. Which is not to say that if you have a problem, you shouldn’t be looking for a solution that can help today – but it is an exciting proposition.