New Vaccine Curbs Heroin Addiction in Rats

By Joseph Castro | July 23, 2011 8:46 am

What’s the News: Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have now created a vaccine that prevents a heroin high in rats. The vaccine, detailed in a recent study in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, stimulates antibodies that can stop not only heroin but also its derivative psychoactive compounds from reaching the brain.

How the Heck:

  • Developing a vaccine for heroin addiction has been a goal of research for some time, but a major issue has been that the drug quickly metabolizes into 6-acetylmorphine, morphine, and the much less active 3-monoacetylmorphine, so any vaccine must work against all four of the compounds.
  • This research team solved the problem by creating a drug cocktail that slowly degrades in the body, all the while exposing the immune system to the different psychoactive metabolites of heroin. They also created a control vaccine that only targeted morphine.
  • When the researchers injected several booster shots of the dynamic vaccine into rats, the rodents rapidly developed antibodies to the compounds. When given the opportunity, only three out of seven rats self-administered heroin (by pressing on a lever) after they received the new vaccine; all of the control rats self-administered the drug.

What’s the Context:

Not So Fast:

  • While over half of the addicted rats opted out of taking heroin after being vaccinated, there were still only seven of them injected in the trial. Ideally, the researchers need a larger pool of test rats to really see the effectiveness of their vaccine.
  • It’s unclear if the vaccine is preventing both the heroin high and the craving, or just the high. If tested in human addicts (still a long way off), would some of them up their heroin doses to try to override the vaccine, as cocaine addicts did with TA-CD?
  • Vaccines don’t always affect people the same way, particularly those with immunological deficiencies, so it’s unlikely that it would work for all addicts.

(via ScienceDaily)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Mountaindog

    This is interesting research but raises concerns that the usefulness of legitimate medical narcotic use for pain control would potentially be abrogated. The effects of immunization for many antigens last for a lifetime. The question therefore arises that the young addict who was successfully treated for narcotic addiction using immunotherapy may have very limited options for subsequent control of severe pain should they suffer a traumatic injury, develop cancer in later life, etc. It’s not so easy to turn off an immune response once it has been activated.

  • Scott Finnell

    I agree with Mountaindog, I would be very concerned about a drug that lasts a lifetime. What if during that month of blocking the drug, the user has a terrible car accident, and they can’t give them anything for pain? They could die from shock. Also, what about natural opiates that the body produces? would this be blocked leading to depression and one being in constant pain from a lack of indigenous opiates?

  • Pietr Hitzig

    The goal is not to find rat vaccines against addictive substances but to find realistic treatments for humans.

    Humans are far more intelligent than rats. Lust for cocaine and opiates is far more powerful than a simple vaccine. Are we going to tie human beings down and force them to accept substances that will not alleviate their craving?

    Philosophers and realists through millennia know that men and women do not respond to the whip but to reward and cessation of pain.

  • Naveed

    Pietr, if it stops the heroin from working it is not a punishment. Who’s talking about forcing them? I’m sure there are a lot of addicts who would want to take this vaccine if it could stop them from taking heroin.

    To Scott and Mountaindog, true it would stop them from being able to receive pain relief from other opiates, but I believe there are alternatives to opiates for pain cessation. I suppose people would have to choose if they want to remain a junkie, kill themselves slowly and live a miserable life or risk that under some uncertain circumstances they could not receive opiate painkillers. I know what I would choose, I would get rid of the pressing problem of being a heroin addict.

    Let’s look at the odds:
    Chance of dying in a car accident in your lifetime: 1 in ~18000
    according to a quick google search

    Chances of dying from heroin addiction greater than 51%

    according to the study found on this page:
    and 43% of the people who didn’t die were still addicted to heroin so only about 25% were able to quit.

  • Stupidity

    It seems to me that this would be very useful for young people who do not believe they can be addicted to a drugs. Once addiction become obvious they can recieve a shot at a help center.

  • Sydney

    As a practitioner of emergency medicine, I have to disagree with Naveed. One of the reasons for administering morphine or fentanyl in the field, for example in the case of acute MI (heart attack), is for its properties as a vaso-dilator, not just for pain relief. Opioid, opiate painkillers are indicated in and are included in the responsible treatment and management of certain conditions. Non-narcotic pharmaceutical preparations are not a substitute. One of the metabolites of heroin is morphine, and yes this would have an effect on therapeutic administration as well.

  • Dim

    I think rats havn’t phsycologic dependens, so in human’s case it must be much difficult.

  • Claudio @ Crime in South Africa

    I agree, i think the fact that rats have a limit to there phsycological being might not be accurate, but its a start atleast.

  • David

    This is interesting…
    Overcoming Common Drug Rehab Problems
    If you or a loved one is considering drug rehab, you may find that many day to day problems complicate your choice. Below are some concerns that come up regularly when a prospective patient is entering rehab and suggestions for how one might resolve these problems…
    Go to to read more.

  • Oddone

    In regards to the first two comments about pain cessation I would say that IDEALLY the administration of opiates to a recreational user or an addict would be avoided – particularly for someone who is a sober, non – using addict.

    Considering the risk of restarting the process of withdrawal and dramatically increased chance of relapse directly following the medical administration I would say it would be prefferable to use alternative means of treatment.

  • Ben

    To the person in the second comment:

    i realize this is late, but here we go. Our body doesnt release “natural opiates” our body releases neural transmitters called “endorphins”. Those endorphins tell the nerves that report pain that there is no pain, in order to maintain homeastatis(a balance in the body). Opiates cause our body to unnaturally release these endorphins in an unbelievably unnatural way.

    Addiction to these drugs comes from upon using these drug periodically, our body no longer naturally releases these endorphins and waits for the drug to be administered. So, when the drug is not in your system, no endorphins are being released and paiin is uncontrollableand homeostasis does not exist. this means that a simple pinches pain can feel like your skin is being ripped off because your body cant control the pain.

    Think about the cruise control on your car. Your car is set to 60, but when it drops to 58 it gives a little gas. Now inject your car with heroin. It accelerates to 90 and then goes to 55. you inject again to get to 60 but it puts you back up to 85. You now drop to 50 when the your car is sober. In this comparison, anything below 60 is pain and 90 is high. With every use, the speed while not using is lower and lower, while it is utterly inpossible to keep at a normal speed.

    I am acollege student, btw, and i learned all about this in my anatomy class. unfortunately, my brother is also a herion addict and is homeless. I do not know where he is and i only occasionally hear that he is actually alive, i never speak to him directly. I’ve been researching ways that i can help him, but it seems that there is nothing i can do for him. im nineteen and have never touched a drug in my life so i do not KNOW what anyone is going through. I just know what im going through. And just the fact of not knowing whether my own brother is alive or dead is agonizing in itself.


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