A vaccine which could prevent heroin addiction by blocking the euphoric effect of the drug has moved a step closer to development. Following successful animals studies the first human trials will shortly be underway.
As reported in the Latin American Herald Tribune, researchers based in Mexico will shortly be undertaking clinical trials on people in an attempt to develop a vaccine which will stop heroin addiction.
The medication functions by blocking the apparent "euphoric" effect experienced by heroin users by preventing the chemicals which trigger euphoria from reaching the brain. Essentially the vaccine causes the body to create antibodies that attach to the molecules in heroin that affect the brain. When the antibodies attach to the designate targets they prevent the drug molecules from accessing certain "opioid receptors" in the central nervous system.The result is that the heroin user feels no change in mood on taking the drug.
It is hoped that by controlling any sense of mood change, in combination with other therapies, that the heroin addict will stop taking the drug, by reducing the craving, given that there is no perceived gain from doing so.
Heroin is one of the most addictive substances (third to nicotine and caffeine). Current treatments usually involve replacing heroin with opiates like methadone, and then using the substitute to gradually reduce the amount taken. The replacement of heroin with other opiates is not without its own problems.
The researchers, based at Mexico’s Juan Ramon de la Fuente National Psychiatric Institute, have already completed a successful round of trials using rats. The Daily Mail notes that in the study, rats were trained to ingest heroin and no restriction was placed upon how much heroin they consumed. For the set of rats given the trial vaccine, the rats consumed considerably less heroin.
If the results in the human trial as successful, this could lead to a major breakthrough with drug addiction.
The institute's director, Maria Elena Medina, is quoted in The Guardian as saying "It would be a vaccine for people who are serious addicts, who have not had success with other treatments and decide to use this application to get away from drugs."