In 2016, there were more than 42,000 opioid-related deaths, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire in particular has been particularly hard hit by a wave of opioid and heroine addiction and a mounting overdose rate. In response to all of this, President Donald Trump recently revealed his new plan for combatting this epidemic.
The pillar of his plan calling the most attention to itself is the one which outlines plans to seek the death penalty for certain drug traffickers. However, this may not be the pillar that actually shows the most promise. Another portion of the plan will also allocate a certain amount of research dollars toward developing a vaccine for opioid addiction. While there has been no mention of just how much funding the President plans to allocate towards this research, he has called for $13 billion in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services over the next 2 years.
In December, researcher teams at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse made a significant breakthrough with an experimental heroin vaccine they developed for and administered to mice and rats. During the trials, they discovered that antibodies in the vaccine bonded themselves to heroine molecules before crossing the blood-brain barrier, thus eliminating the euphoric effects of the drug.
A further promising development in the trials was the discovery that while the vaccine negated the euphoric effects of heroine, it did not interfere with the milder forms of opioids that addicts are often given to help wean them off the harder drugs, such as methadone or buprenorphine. These medications are crucial to addicts because they help reduce both their cravings and their symptoms of withdrawal. The vaccine was also found to not interfere with naloxone (also known as Narcan), a critical medication used to reverse an opiate overdose.
These factors are critical in developing a vaccine that actually works because the vaccine in and of itself is not a “magic bullet.” Rather it is simply one of an arsenal of weapons that addiction specialists and treatment counselors can use to help an addict overcome their addiction. Unlike vaccines for other diseases and illnesses the addiction vaccine would also only work in the short term and would require repeated dosages. This is also why it is critical to develop a vaccine that does not interfere with other currently utilized treatment methods and medications.
Making the leap from a vaccine that works in mice and rats to a vaccine that works in humans is a pretty giant leap, however, and this drug still has a long way to go to make it. Funding will, of course, make a huge difference, but funding in and of itself is not the only obstacle. In addition to developing the vaccine into one that can be safely administered to humans, there are still a number of rigorous clinical trials it will need to undergo before being ready to distribute.
Considering how far an opioid addiction vaccine will have to go in order to become an actual viable product, there are a number of other promising treatments that are much closer to being viable. One of these is a medication known as Naltrexone, which can either be taken orally or injected, but also blocks the effects of opiates in the brain. Researchers are also working on a patch that can be implanted that will deliver a steady dose of the drug to help patients manage their addiction long term.
Other portions of Trump’s plan also call for a reduction in demand via the over-prescription of medications and a plan to help those currently struggling with addiction.
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