The US-based research organization Scripps Research Institute reported that they may be a few steps to formulating an effective vaccine against the adverse effects of heroin, including the worst one which is the addiction.
The vaccine which was tested on monkeys showed potential to become an effective vaccine against heroin. Results are paving the way to future clinical tests on humans.
"The vaccine sequesters the psychoactive molecules that heroin produces and prevents distribution to the brain," according to Paul Bremer, a graduate student at TSRI. "It essentially uses your body's own natural defenses to neutralize the drug." He added.
Paul Bremer is one of the first authors of a study about the vaccine. The study was published on June 2 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Heroin produces its well-known high by activating the opiate receptors of the nervous system. By doing this, the drug triggers feelings of euphoria on the user. The downing effects of the drug can pose a danger when necessary functions of the body completely shut down.
Heroin often slows down the breathing of the user which can lead to respiratory arrest. Respiratory arrest is considered as one of the most common causes of deaths due to heroin consumption.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) based in the U.S. reports that heroin-related deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010 to 2015. It has reported that more than 13,000 individuals have died because of the drug in 2015 alone.
The heroin vaccine was designed in a manner that it mimics the molecules of the drug, which then trains the immune system to detect and eliminate the drug molecules. This way, the body itself would be able to fend off the dangerous effects of the drug without having to administer more drugs to the user.
The researchers say that the vaccine would also discourage the use of heroin since the vaccine is reported to be able to suppress the high that a person gets when taking the illegal drug.
"To put it simply, vaccines have saved more lives in the last 50 years than any other therapeutic — period," said Kim Janda, a chemistry professor at TSRI.
Janda and his team have been working on the vaccine for the past eight years. The vaccine has been found to be a complete success on rodents, thus it was administered to rhesus monkeys in Virginia Commonwealth University.
"That was promising. So, we were happy to see if we keep vaccinating them a year or two years out, hopefully, the response will only get greater," Bremer told live science.
However, Janda stresses that the vaccine will not be a magic drug that can end the heroin crisis on its own. According to him, heroin users must first be willing to undergo recovery procedures to be administered the vaccine.
One potential downside of the drug is that, even though the patient no longer experiences the high, they will still feel the craving t seek other forms of high. Hence, they may lead to other drugs such as meth, or opium. That is why it is important to compliment it with other ways to recover from heroin addiction.
Currently, other drugs are available in the market such as methadone and buprenorphine. Both of which are administered to recovering addicts to fend off their cravings. Naltrexone, on the other hand, is used to eliminate the high that comes from using heroin.