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NBC News: Anti-Drug Vaccines Could Be a Game-Changer for People Battling Addiction

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at April 25, 2017

As we move ever closer to a “cure” for addiction, as discussed in the story below by NBC News, we need to continue to push towards effective treatments relating to many underlying causes of substance misuse, abuse, and addiction – mental health disorders. For many, the use of substances has masked the untreated underlying issues, which American society continues to grapple with.

While the day may soon come as well where a simple machine can “zap” what troubles us away, medical ethicists will have to chime in on changes to behavior and personality, and as a result, a change of who we are as a person.

The story from NBC News, meanwhile, is encouraging:

The toll of addiction is staggering. Approximately one in seven people who try addictive substances will get hooked, and the abuse of illicit drugs costs the economy $193 billion each year in healthcare, crime prevention, and loss of productivity, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Around 22,000 people each year die after overdosing on illicit drugs.

Those in recovery walk a fine line. Any slip-up could potentially send them back down the path to addiction. But now, there could be a new tool to help addicts fight back. Researchers are working on vaccines that block drugs from reaching the brain, preventing addicts from getting high. These vaccines could help people in recovery stay clean, but they’re not likely to become part of the standard childhood immunizations lineup.

The latest efforts in the field focus on prescription opioids like fentanyl, but work on addiction vaccines also includes shots for nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Chilean researchers are even working on an addiction vaccine for alcohol. With nearly two decades of research already invested, these efforts may soon pay off for people in recovery.

“The concept of addiction vaccines is if you can prevent the addictive molecule from reaching the brain, you won’t get the high and you’ll stop using,” explains Ron Crystal, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College who has developed a vaccine against cocaine that will soon go into clinical trials.

Among the anti-heroin vaccines being tested, one coaxes the immune system to attack heroin and helps eliminate it from the body so effectively that it can neutralize lethal levels of the drug in animals.

A second anti­-heroin vaccine, developed at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, goes after two closely linked problems: It keeps heroin from reaching the brain while also preventing HIV infection.

There are still challenges, though. When a person receives a vaccination against heroin, he or she also will lose the pain relief from morphine, since the two substances are closely linked. “So you lose those drugs as therapy for pain,” says Matyas, who points out there are other painkillers that don’t have the same chemical makeup and would still work.

That might be a small price to pay for getting rid of addiction, though the process involves more than just a vaccine. The researchers say vaccines are just one part of a system of changing behavior — but they could offer an important respite for people who are trying their best to make a change. It’s common for people to relapse, or to require more than one type of treatment, before finding a course of recovery that suits them.

“Basically I view any of these vaccines as a therapy for someone who wants to quit,” Matyas says. “It’s a tool for someone who wants to quit. They give a window where someone would have the opportunity to overcome their addiction.”

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