Remember Pac-Man? The little yellow video game guy who goes through a maze gobbling up different colored creatures? And of course, there who could forget about Ms. Pac-Man.
Well, a new heroin vaccine may that may help cure addiction works kind of like Pac-Man, and Ms. Pac-Man. When someone has been using heroin for years and is ready to stop, a vaccine that’s being worked on right now may help that process by working through the body gobbling up the heroin particles, seemingly eliminating them from the user’s body.
Kim Janda, the study’s senior author, helped come up with the idea for the vaccine, and then the vaccine itself. While he was working on a drug that counteracting drug addiction, at one point he realized how ridiculous it felt to be creating one drug to stop the effects and use of another drug.
Why not create something more like the vaccine for measles that treats the problem, rather than substituting one drug for another? So he and his team did just that.
The Pac-Man-like vaccine works by triggering the body to release heroin-fighting antibodies. When using heroin, the person who has been vaccinated will not get high. Instead, his or her body is gobbling up, or neutralizing, all heroin that is in the bloodstream, before it reaches the brain.
In other words, heroin will no longer feel good to the user; the drug will be metabolized by the vaccine before it is able to do anything positive for the person seeking the high. From there, what’s the point in putting harmful chemicals into your body? There isn’t one, you won’t get high. Pretty cool, right?
Not A Quick Fix
While this sounds like a quick fix, the vaccine is not meant to stand alone. The heroin vaccine may help cure addiction, but there are many other things a heroin addict needs to adopt into his or her life to fully stop using.
The vaccine could be viewed as more of a crutch, or training wheels, during early recovery when relapse is very likely. Knowing that the vaccine has been administered hopefully keeps a newly-clean addict from relapsing, but if that doesn’t work, then the physical interference will (i.e. the addict no longer gets high when using heroin, so a relapse is worthless.)
Why Haven’t We Started Yet
So why aren’t we hearing about people getting vaccinated for heroin addiction? Well, the vaccine has only been tested on rats up to this point. Unfortunately, financial matters have kept the heroin vaccine, that may help cure addiction, from being tested on humans. As you know, the system of a rat is less intricate than that of one of us, so it is unknown how well the results will translate to actual heroin addicts.
What do you think? If the vaccine that causes your body to fight off heroin as if it’s an invader works on people, and can be integrated into substance abuse treatment as a tool for heroin addicts, would you be willing to try it to get yourself, or a loved one, off such a dangerous drug?
Treatment Takes A Lot Of Work
Right now, treatment for heroin addiction takes a lot of work. People who become addicted to the drug, and other opiates like prescription pills (OxyContin, Vicodin, Norco, etc.), have a severly hard time detoxing from the drug and then staying clean. Heroin has a pull on its users unlike many other substances. Through individual and group therapy, plus holistic modalities and individual treatment plans, heroin addicts can recovery and live a successful life without the drug.
Can adding a vaccine only help those people who are working hard to start a new life? More research is needed, but stay tuned! This heroin vaccine may help cure addiction one day.
Marissa Maldonado works in the clinical admission department at Sovereign Health Group, a dual diagnosis treatment center designed to help people with behavioral problems and substance abuse issues.
Photo Credit: Army Medicine (CC BY 2.0)
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