Is a Vaccine for Heroin Addiction in the Making?
What if there were a vaccine to help people overcome heroin addiction? Scientists are working on creating such a vaccine.
Heroin addiction is increasing across America. Research shows that heroin use has been on the rise since 2007. Heroin is highly addictive, and prescription opioids are often the gateway to heroin use as heroin is a cheaper but highly dangerous alternative.
With heroin addiction rates soaring, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the clinical and diagnostic health care manual, now does not separate substance misuse from dependence. Instead, it lists a mild to a severe range for opioid use disorder. Heroin and other opioids are so addictive that a person using these chemicals even a few times runs the risk of addiction.
Scientists are working on a vaccination to block the effects of heroin and other opioids. It is a potentially new form of addiction treatment that holds promise for the future.
New Addiction Treatment on the Horizon?
In 2018, 91 Americans died every day from heroin addiction. To fight these numbers, more research on effective treatment methods must be conducted.
Science Daily reported on the new heroin addiction treatment for opioid misuse in 2017. Scientists at the U.S. Military HIV research program introduced an experimental vaccine that used antibodies to stop heroin from crossing the blood-brain barrier in rats and mice. The blood-brain barrier is the body’s mechanism for protecting the person from exposure to harmful chemicals, viruses or other substances carried throughout the body by the bloodstream.
This new vaccine appears to block the addictive effects by preventing the crossing of that barrier. The practical effects include blocking the euphoric feeling that contributes to heroin addiction. The goal of this research was to use this vaccine to supplement the effectiveness of existing addiction treatments.
While this vaccine is still being researched, it also seemed to block the effects of other commonly misused opioids such as oxycodone, codeine and hydrocodone in addition to heroin. Part of the problem when developing this treatment is that the vaccine must not block or cross-react with methadone, buprenorphine, or other drugs designed to help fight heroin addiction. The goal overall is to, “induce an immune response that blocks the target drug from entering the brain,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Although more testing needs to occur, a vaccine that could stop the rewiring of the brain’s reward center (which is what makes heroin and other opioids so addictive) could help a person struggling with a substance use disorder. With innovative new treatments, people could stop the behaviors that cause them to quit rehab. Staying in addiction treatment helps people recover faster.
Imagine a day when heroin addiction treatment could take the form of a vaccine. What if there was a heroin vaccine, just like the ones for smallpox or other childhood diseases? Current research is examining therapies that could help reduce the rising rates of heroin addiction. However, until more research is published, these kinds of vaccines can’t yet be used by people in treatment.
Want help recovering from heroin addiction? Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to find out about addiction treatment methods that are already available for those who have developed an addiction to heroin or other opioids.