Are you addicted to something? Do you know people suffering from addiction? How many times have they tried to quit, only to re-start and exacerbate their problem?
If only were it so easy to take a pill or a shot and be able to quit forever, right?
Lately they have been talking about a breakthrough heroin vaccine. The idea of an anti-addiction vaccine is not new. According to the LA Times, for nearly 40 years scientists have been working on vaccines against all kinds of addictions, including nicotine, marijuana and alcohol. There are even trials of vaccines to prevent obesity. None of the anti-addiction vaccines has yet received Food and Drug Administration approval, however, and most of the studies are still in their early stages.
The headlines trumpeting a heroin vaccine were based on a finding that the drug had proved to be effective on mice during trials in Mexico (a nation that could use some good news related to drugs). Scientists now plan to test the patented vaccine in humans.
It is estimated that there are 1 million heroin addicts in the United States. Perhaps.
I have personal ties to the problem of addiction, and have studied the social and historical influences of drug use, and that has made me skeptical about the idea of a vaccine. Entrenched poverty, social inequality and personal despair all promote drug use, and these things profoundly shape the unequal outcomes of the addicted.
The development of an anti-addiction vaccine still faces major challenges. In the past, vaccines that were effective in animal models have proved ineffective in humans. This is partly because the molecules introduced into the blood to generate antibodies against the effects of the drug on the brain are incredibly tiny.
The Difference Between Mice and Men
One problem, though, is that even the most effective anti-addiction vaccine can't cure the underlying factors that make people prone to using drugs, including poverty, violence and lack of opportunity. Rather, the vaccines are aimed at preventing a drug user from experiencing the pleasure associated with a particular drug. When a mouse no longer feels pleasure from a drug because of a vaccine, it doesn't have the option of turning to another pleasure-producing substance. But humans do.
The best way to not be addicted is to abstain. Don’t plan on some future scientific breakthrough to cure your addiction problems. Start by taking a 8 hour drug class and join a social network of people who also are trying to stay clean and sober.