Scientists are developing a vaccine to end addiction: 5 things to know

In the midst of the nation's opioid crisis, scientists are developing an experimental vaccine that aims to treat addicted patients who would be at risk of death if they detoxified and then relapsed, according to The New York Times.

Here are five things to know.

1. If the vaccine is successful, it would stop opioids by keeping them from reaching the brain through the circulatory system. At the same time, the vaccine would not interfere with other treatments for addicts, like methadone and buprenorphine, or with a compound such as naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.

2. The vaccine works to create high levels of antibodies, said Gary Matyas, PhD, an immunologist who is developing the vaccine at Silver Springs, Md.-based Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. "You inject heroin, the antibodies basically grab all the heroin, bind it all up, and the heroin can't cross the blood-brain barrier," he told The New York Times. As a result, the patient does not feel a high, Dr. Matyas said. In time, the heroin would be expelled from the body like any waste product.

3. For addicts, the vaccine would serve as part of their therapy for recovering, Dr. Matyas said. "If they mess up and take a dose of heroin, the heroin won't work." However, the vaccine is not yet certain to work and must still be tested on humans. It could take more than 10 years for there to be a licensed product, Dr. Matyas said.

4. Researchers still need to determine how large the dosages would have to be and how often they would need to be administered. However, the vaccine's success with lab mice and rats continues to encourage Dr. Matyas.

5. Although the process of testing and receiving approval from federal authorities for the experimental vaccine will take years to complete, Dr. Matyas expressed faith in the potential to help turn the opioid crisis around. In particular, the medication would greatly reduce the risk of overdoses by preventing users from getting high. That is the vaccine's "true vision," Dr. Matyas said.

More articles on opioids: 
Feds call for more medication-based opioid treatment: 7 takeaways
Daily presurgery opioid use linked to poorer spine surgery outcomes
AMA opposes opioid prescription limits: 5 things to know

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