Vaccines to curb drug addictions have promise

But concerns over overdoses -- and lawsuits -- mean much more work has to be done.


If only there was a magic potion that could cure addiction. No longer would smokers be chained to their cigarettes or drug addicts to their pipes and needles.

Well, it looks as if that day is here. A vaccine has been invented that can crush addiction.

So why isn't it being used to improve lives in the United States and around the globe?

Fear of lawsuits.

Earlier this month doctors reported that a vaccine to treat cocaine dependence had produced a large enough antibody response to reduce cocaine use in 38 percent of addicted individuals. A similar vaccine is now being studied by the federal government to treat nicotine addiction.

These vaccines are expected to be used in conjunction with other treatments, such as behavioral therapy, to help people kick the habit. They work by stimulating the body's immune system to create antibodies that bind to the drug and prevent it from reaching the brain and producing a chemical high, according to an Associated Press report. Drugs like cocaine and nicotine are comprised of tiny molecules that are too small for the immune system to recognize, allowing them to slip through the body's blood-brain barrier.

Researchers realized they could circumvent that problem by tethering drug molecules to larger proteins that the body recognizes as foreign, the AP reported. It is at that point the immune system would be tricked into mounting a defense.

"Fifteen years ago, people thought this was completely stupid," said Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, a psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and senior author of the cocaine study.

Now, he said, "We have people lining up and down the street to take the vaccine. It's almost a no-brainer."

Almost. But the human brain is involved and it will come up with ways -- destructive and dangerous ways -- to feed their addiction that can be as much mental as it is physical.

What happens when addicts who still want that high from cocaine take more and more and more of the drug to achieve it?

They overdose and die. And then their families sue the drug manufacturers.

That is exactly why this therapy isn't likely to see the market for anything but nicotine addiction, and that's a long shot.

Still, there is promise in a vaccine to cure addiction.

Scientists will have to figure out how to trick not only the human body but the human mind to fight drug addiction. It could be years down the road and will likely involve breakthroughs we can't comprehend today.

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