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Vaccine Is Able to Combat Drug Addiction in Rats

Update Date: May 07, 2013 12:53 PM EDT

Drug addiction is seen as a horrifying problem. Time and time again, drug addiction has threatened to and successfully managed to gut people, families and entire communities. Even for people who decide that they need treatment, it is often hard to stay away from the drugs that caused the addiction in the first place. A recent study has found that a vaccine may be able to prevent heroin addiction. If the vaccine proves successful in human trials, it could provide relief for the estimated 10 million who are addicted to heroin today.

Designing a vaccine to combat heroin addiction was difficult, because the drug metabolizes extremely quickly once it enters a person's blood supply. "Heroin is metabolized very quickly to another compound called 6-acetylmorphine, which crosses into the brain and accounts for much of heroin's effect," Kim Janda, a study author and a professor at the Scripps Institute, said in a statement.

In order to receive the desired effect, then, researchers developed a vaccine that targeted heroin, 6-acetylmorphine and morphine. The result is that opiates from heroin never reach the brain. As a result, a person taking heroin will never feel the effects of the drug. That means that relapse, a common fear of recovery from drug addiction, would become impossible. The vaccine also prevents other effects of heroin, like the blocking of pain.

The research on the vaccine was performed using rats. In one test, rats were trained to push a lever three times to receive heroin. In the rats who abstained then received the vaccine, receiving a single dose of heroin did not trigger them to push the level again in order to receive more. Meanwhile, rats who abstained and received a dosage of heroin recommenced their old tricks.

A second test was conducted among rats who took increasing amounts of heroin compulsively, like a person who has an addiction problem. The rats were forced to abstain for 30 days. Then the rats were given heroin once more. The rats who were given the vaccine did not start to take heroin compulsively again, while the rats who were given a placebo vaccine started taking the drug compulsively.

The researchers are currently looking for a pharmaceutical partner for clinical trials in humans and, hopefully, marketing and distribution. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This research is not the only pharmaceutical treatment against addiction. Vivitrol and its generic naltrexone have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to fight drug addiction and alcoholism. However, Vivitrol, in particular, has come under fire for being so expensive; its co-pay costs $1,100. It also has had mixed success, The Fix reports.

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