By Sandy Baker
How bad is the opioid epidemic?
The National Institutes of Drug Abuse notes that, as of March of 2018, 115 Americans die every day from overdosing on opioids. To help combat this, some companies are working on the development of vaccines as an innovative addiction treatment option.
About the Opioid Epidemic
The lives lost to the opioid epidemic seem incredibly difficult to comprehend. How can a product that is supposed to be a painkiller do such harm?
Plenty of causes of this type of epidemic exist. Some believe it is the direct result of medical doctors over-prescribing painkillers such as oxycodone. In other cases, the ease of access of these drugs, illegal or not, on the streets has also led to complexities in treating the problem. Many people move from prescription drugs to heroin to fight off the intense withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction Is Not Easy to Treat
No matter why it is happening, the problem of opioid abuse is growing. Taking immediate action is essential.
Those who struggle with addiction face a daily battle. It is never easy to overcome this type of addiction, especially if the dependency has continued long term. Those taking pain medications for years, such as to treat a bad back, may not even realize they need addiction recovery services until their addiction takes control of their lives.
How Vaccines Could Help
Science has been working to find a solution to drug addiction for many years. Recently, The Scripps Research Institute began working on vaccine that shows significant progress. Called an anti-heroin vaccine, it would encourage the body’s natural immune system to produce antibodies. These would bind to heroin in the bloodstream, if a person consumes it.
As a result, the drug could not move into the brain. It would simply not be possible for it to pass through the blood-brain barrier. In a person without the vaccine, heroin passes through this barrier and creates the desired high. Without this ability, that sensation of being high is gone, making taking the drug worthless.
Heroin does not normally create an immune response from the body. As a result, researchers from this group worked to develop a carrier protein. When in place, it tells the immune system to respond to heroin as if it was a virus or a foreign body.
The current version of the vaccine also includes an adjuvant. This component works to increase the immune system’s response to the chemical. As a result, the body works harder to develop antibodies to fight the invading chemicals. The vaccine, then, becomes more effective.
A New Avenue for Addiction Treatment
What does this mean for the future? A person receives a vaccine for heroin and perhaps other toxic drugs. The body’s immune system reacts and develops antibodies. This means the body has prepared itself to fight off the effects of any future drug use.
When a vaccinated person consumes the drug, then, the antibodies go to work. They bind to the drug molecules found in the bloodstream. And, as a result, they cannot pass through the blood – brain barrier. The individual doesn’t get the high he or she thought. As a result, there’s no motivation to take the drug again.
Right now, further experimentation is necessary. However, doctors have seen successful results in animals and the vaccine is considered close to being ready for human trials.
Other organizations are working on vaccines for drug abuse as well. And, there have been a number of previous attempts that have failed. As a result, the idea of a vaccine for opioid addiction is not likely to be helpful to those who are struggling with substance abuse right now.
What About Now?
Individuals struggling with drug abuse must take the first step of seeking help. That includes working through detox to remove the chemical demand for the drug from the body. From there, ongoing therapy and support programs can help individuals to avoid relapsing and using again.
Perhaps in time, the use of drug vaccines for heroin or others will make the process a bit easier to overcome. Until that comes, though, individuals must seek out treatment in order to protect their lives.
At The Ranch at Dove Tree, we offer comprehensive treatment programs that can help. We encourage you to contact us to learn more about the opportunities for effective, proven treatment available to you right now.
Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Heroin vaccine blocks lethal overdose. The Scripps Research Institute.
Vaccines against addictive drugs push forward despite past failures. Chemical and Engineering News.