Is a Vaccine for Drug Addiction on the Horizon?

Is a Vaccine for Drug Addiction on the Horizon?

Vaccines for preventable diseases have been around for years and provide invaluable protection against chicken pox, diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis). There are vaccines for travelers to guard against malaria, meningitis and yellow fever. Each year, new variants of the flu vaccine help combat the ever-changing nature of this illness. With all the attention of researchers in the medical field, especially in the area of addiction, why isn’t there a vaccine to help prevent addiction to drugs?

The good news is that researchers are working on it. The bad news is that while some vaccines are therapeutic, they are not preventative in nature. They only work to help persons already addicted to drugs. But that isn’t deterring researchers, who are still hopeful breakthroughs will occur in this area.

Two examples of drug vaccine research involve cocaine and methamphetamine.

The search for vaccines to combat cocaine and methamphetamine addiction

Cocaine is a highly-addictive stimulant with a high abuse potential, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). There are an estimated 2 million cocaine users in the U.S. According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 35.9 million Americans aged 12 and older had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetimes. An effective treatment to curb cocaine addiction, however, has yet to be found.

Methamphetamine is a serious health concern and the use and spread of the drug has increased in recent years. The 2007 NSDUH report estimates some 270,348 meth users in the U.S.

According to the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, released by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), cocaine is the leading drug threat to society, followed by methamphetamine. Domestic production of methamphetamine is expected to increase moderately in 2009.

Researchers are working hard to find effective vaccines for both drugs.

Studies involving two vaccines specifically developed to counter dependency on cocaine and methamphetamine appear to both relieve addiction and help minimize symptoms of drug withdrawal.

Reporting on the results of the cocaine vaccine study in 2007, Baylor College of Medicine researchers say that the vaccines tested stimulate the body to produce antibodies, which then attack the drug in the bloodstream. The net result is that this antibody action prevents the drug from reaching the brain and creating effects leading to dependency.

TA-CD, a cocaine vaccine, is comprised of inactivated cholera toxin protein attached to cocaine. In the Baylor trials, TA-CD is administered by injection series to study participants over a period of three months. According to the Baylor researchers, the participants begin to respond favorably to the vaccine after about one month.

Researchers say the TA-CD vaccine works to slowly decrease the amount of cocaine that reaches the brain. With the slow process, the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are not experienced.

The vaccine’s antibody properties lasted for another nine months. Patients were then administered additional injections of TA-CD, if needed, every 4 to 8 weeks.

Researchers caution that the vaccine may not work for everyone, that addicts have to want to quit using, and a long commitment is required.

Methamphetamine vaccine being tested yields results similar to those of TA-CD. What the vaccines have in common is that they both promote antibody production. But since each has a unique protein composition, they are able to target the specific drug (cocaine or methamphetamine).

In the end, with the escalating number of cocaine and methamphetamine users and addicts in the U.S. and the world, efforts by the NIDA to spur research into effective vaccines to combat addiction will hopefully yield positive results.

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