Heroin addiction continues to cripple many parts of the United States, the byproduct of the prescription opioid epidemic. While there is no cure for addiction, only maintenance through a program of recovery, there are many in the field of medicine who are working hard to find cures.
A cure for certain types of addiction may seem like science fiction, which may be the case; however, a researcher in La Jolla, California at the Scripps Research Institute believes that it is possible – especially with heroin. Researcher Kim Janda has been working on a vaccine to treat heroin addiction, which has shown promise in rat studies, Time reports.
Unfortunately, the research has some obstacles in the way, including a lack of funding and a lack of interest amongst drug companies. Despite the fact that The National Institute on Drug Abuse allocated $27.1 million to addiction vaccine research last year; it isn’t enough to pay for human trials. “No pharmaceutical company is going to fund trials for heroin, no way,” Janda said. “For meth? No way. Forget about it.”
In 2013, a study was published which showed that rats which were addicted to heroin did not relapse if they were given an experimental vaccine, according to the article; despite the high amounts of heroin they were given. The results held even when the rats were given high doses of heroin.
“It’s really dramatic,” said Dr. George Koob, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who was involved in the research. “You can inject a rat with 10 times the dose of heroin that a normal rat [could handle] and they just look at you like nothing happened. It’s extraordinary.”
If the Food and Drug Administration would grant investigational new drug status for the vaccine, Janda and Koob could test it in humans.
“I am not sure Americans realize that if they treated alcoholism and drug addiction they would save quadrillions of dollars in health care costs,” says Koob. “Go into any emergency room on the weekend and you will see half are there for alcohol and drugs. If for no other reason, investing in research on addiction will reduce health care costs in the future. That’s something I believe in.”