Scientists are developing a vaccine to treat heroin addiction, and it has proven effective in keeping drug-addicted rats from relapsing in a preclinical trial, according to this article in Popular Science. Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in California revealed in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the vaccine is now ready for human trials.
The vaccine apparently generates antibodies that bind heroin and its metabolites in the bloodstream, preventing them from making their way to the brain. The vaccine “essentially keeps the body from experiencing the fun parts of drug use, like euphoria and pain obstruction,” the article says.
According to the article:
In the study, rats were trained to press a lever three times to receive an injection of heroin. During 12-hour periods of self-administrated access to the drug, the addicted rats began taking heroin compulsively in greater and greater quantities. Then the researchers removed the heroin for 30 days and gave some of the rats the vaccine. After the period of abstention, they were re-exposed to freely accessible heroin. Rats that didn’t receive the treatment resumed taking the drug in increasing quantities, while those that received the treatment didn’t redevelop the compulsion.
Separately, last year, a group of Mexican scientists announced that they had successfully tested a heroin vaccine on mice and were preparing to test it on humans.
Driven by the prescription drug epidemic, heroin addiction is on the rise. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of heroin users nationwide increased dramatically, from 373,000, to 620,000, according to federal data, while the number of heroin-dependent young adults more than doubled, from 53,000, to 109,000, between 2009 and 2011, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Addiction.