Drug addiction is a complicated and messy thing, and fighting a history of heroin use is especially so. In the San Diego Union-Tribune, Bradley Fikes reports on a new tool that may soon be added to the regime of psychological and behavioral counseling and pharmaceutical treatments: a compound he describes as a “heroin vaccine.” So far only tested in rats, the researchers behind the study tell Fikes that the drug is ready for human testing.
Unlike methadone or other synthetic opiates that mimic the behavior of heroin, the new drug actually trains the body to pull heroin from the bloodstream:
Senior study author Kim Janda says the vaccine causes the body to produce antibodies against heroin and its psychoactive products. These antibodies circulate in the bloodstream, and neutralize any of these substances they encounter before they reach the brain.
“It’s like the old ’80s game Pac-Man,” Janda said. “They immediately seek out the target and sequester it.”
People looking to quit heroin use, or those trying to help them, would be able to use the vaccine to nullify the effects of any future heroin use. Substance abuse is way more than just a physical addiction: this vaccine could help protect users whose bodies are off heroin but who decide it’d be a good idea to start using again. Combined with existing treatments to get a person used to a drug-free life, the new pharmaceutical would help make sure the treatment sticks.
More from Smithsonian.com: