According to a report from Medill News Service, Dr. William Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said that a drug addiction vaccine which has been tested on animal subjects “holds promise”.

Compton was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington D.C. on Saturday in a panel titled ‘Neuroscience Clues to the Chemistry of Mood Disorders and Addictions’. He described the new drug addiction vaccine as the “best solution” to fight the drug addiction epidemic plaguing the U.S. and other nations worldwide.

The deputy director said the vaccine would work by producing “an antibody response which would latch onto the drug of use…and because they’re large molecules they will not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier.” If the blood-brain barrier cannot be breached by a drug, the user is unlikely to become intoxicated or “high”. This means that the user will be “less likely to abuse” the drug.

Rising National Overdose Rates

Having a viable vaccine soon could essentially tip the scales in the fight against the drug epidemic. The country is under siege with multiple reports of overdoses and overdose death on a daily basis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half a million Americans have died from drug overdoses from the year 2000 to 2014. A CDC report showed that there was a 9-percent increase in overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014.

CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. said, “The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming. The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders. This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.”

In the Medill News Service report, Compton estimated that about 200 million opioid prescriptions are given to patients every year. Since there has been a tendency to over-prescribe painkillers, many of the prescriptions are left unused thus increasing the risk of drug diversion and abuse.

Compton believes the new vaccine will fit in with NIDA’s three-part strategy for fighting the opioid epidemic. It involves:

  • Preventing Addiction
  • Reversing Overdoses
  • Helping Addicts

Continuing Vaccine Research

This is not the first time NIDA is pursuing a drug addiction vaccine. In fact, over the years, there have been several research studies funded by the organization to find a viable vaccine. Currently, there are several ongoing studies making progress on solving these substance abuse problems.

One example is The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), which received a two-year grant in 2015 from NIDA worth $1.6 million to come up with a heroin vaccine. In a press release from the Institute in November, the research team announced they had successfully carried out animal trials and were now teaming up with Virginia Commonwealth University and Molecular Express, Inc to “refine the vaccine”.

For now, the country will have to continue waiting for a drug addiction vaccine that can stop the spread of the opioid epidemic. Hopefully, the breakthrough is not far off.