If there a vaccine can be found to treat heroin addiction then this would help eliminate something that has become a scourge for many communities around the globe. Scientists in Mexico are not ready to claim that they have found such a solution, but they certainly seem to be on the right track. They have had some success with using their vaccine on mice and now want to see if similar results can be achieved with humans. If the tests prove successful then it could mean a revolution in the treatment of heroin addiction. Until more evidence is produced it is best to remain skeptical because previous claims for a cure for addiction have proved to be a disappointment.
Research into a possible vaccine for heroin addiction is being carried out by the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico. This drug would work by making the body resistant to the effects of heroin. It does this by working with immune system molecules to block these effects. This means that the addict will no longer get as much pleasure from the substance so there will be less need for them to use it.
So far the vaccines have only been used on animals so there is no guarantee that similar effects will occur with humans. Researchers in Mexico gave mice free access to heroin over an extended period of time. They discovered that when these rodents were given the vaccine they began using their heroin intake fell. This implies that they began to lose interest in the drug. If a similar response was achieved with humans then it would likely make it easier for people to quit.
An effective heroin vaccine would be beneficial for a number of reasons including:
* It would mean that the individual would no longer get any real pleasure from using the drug. They will soon lose interest in heroin if they are not getting any of the desired effects.
* The individual will be far less likely to relapse because they know that they are now resistant to the effects of the drug.
* It is psychological easier for people to go through withdrawals if they know that using will not give them the escape they desire.
* It is likely to discourage the use of needles thus slowing down the spread of HIV. If people are not going to get high they will not see the need of injecting themselves.
* The vaccine may not solve all of the individual’s problems, but it will give them the space to begin fixing their life. They can begin tackling the issues that led them to addiction in the first place.
* This type of solution would likely be more cost effective than a methadone maintenance program. Ideally methadone is meant to be a stepping stone to sobriety but many individuals end up taking the drug indefinitely.
* By taking such a vaccine the individual would be fully committing themselves to a new life. Such commitment will greatly increase their chances of finding success.
* This type of treatment may prove to be particularly effective for those who have failed at other paths into recovery.
* It is estimated that the abuse of heroin leads to the loss of 22 billion dollars a year in the US due to lost productivity, need for medical care, crime, and attempts to money spent trying to treat the problem – a similar picture can be found in many parts of the world. An effective vaccine is likely to significantly reduce this loss of resources.
Any new option that will help people escape addiction is warmly welcomed, but there are some concerns about using vaccines as a treatment option. The problem is that such medications are unlikely to get to the root of the problem. Even if they discover a vaccine that completely removes the pleasure from addiction it will not solve the problem of why people get addicted in the first place. This means that while the individual may one day be able to more easily quit substance abuse they will still be left with the causes of such abuse. Unless these underlying causes are dealt with the individual is likely to just turn to other maladaptive behaviors.
It might not be too long before vaccines become available for addiction, but it is important that these are not offered as a complete solution. The individual will still need to discover what drove them to substance abuse in the first place and tackle these issues. If new treatments are combined with this type of work then they really could be a step forward in addiction recovery.
This research in Mexico is not the only attempt to find a vaccine for addiction treatment. There are also attempts to find a vaccine for the treatment of cocaine, nicotine, methamphetamine abuse. These work in a similar way to the heroin vaccine by making the individual immune to the effects of these drugs – thus eliminating their need to use them.
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