Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute in Silver Spring, MD have been working toward developing a vaccine for opioid addiction that they hope will also be effective in HIV treatment. The research comes as more and more stakeholders have been working to develop solutions to this urgent public health crisis in the clinical, law enforcement and legislative arenas. Initial experimentation of the vaccine began in 2012, when lead researcher Dr. Gary R. Matyas was selected as that year’s recipient of the NIDA Avant-Garde Award for Medications Development. His team received a total of $5 million in support of their research.
How Does the Vaccine Work?
The vaccine would work by stopping heroin and other opioids from getting to the brain-blood barrier. It would create high levels of antibodies that bind up opioids and stop them from reaching the rewards center of the brain. Ideally, there would be no high and opioids would be expelled from the body like any other waste product. Although it would be a vaccine for opioid addiction, it would not supplant any other element of patients’ care, including maintenance drugs like Suboxone, Vivitrol or methadone. By removing the high, the vaccine might be able to mitigate cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms.
How Far to the Finish Line?
Researchers admit that an actual vaccine for opioid addiction could be years away from human application. Lingering questions overdose size and interval of administration combined with the slow-moving regulatory and approval process make the vaccine, for now, an idea for the distant future; however, it represents a positive shift in thinking and potential scientific breakthrough. In 2016, opioids killed more than 50,000 Americans, a record high figure that shows no signs of shrinking. Experimentation with promising clinical solutions combined with progressive, compassionate and forward-thinking prevention strategies may be the key to successfully confronting this problem.