Soon, a vaccine to prevent opioid addiction


The time spent alone and in isolation during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic led to an increase in opioid overdoses. Now scientists are planning for an annual or bi-annual jab that could prevent opioid addiction.

The team led by University of Houston researchers aims to develop an adjuvant opioid use disorder vaccine. An adjuvant molecule boosts the immune system’s response to vaccines, a critical component for the effectiveness of anti-addiction vaccines.

“This could be a game changer for addiction,” said Therese Kosten, Professor of psychology at the varsity.

An anti-opioid vaccine would protect the brain and nervous system by stimulating the body to create powerful antibodies that target and bind to opioid molecules, preventing them from crossing the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain. By blocking opioids from the brain, the vaccine would reduce respiratory depression brought on by opioids when they reach the brain.

The new vaccine will target fentanyl — a synthetic and very potent opioid. Fentanyl poses an especially difficult problem because it is often added to street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines, and even counterfeit benzodiazepines like Xanax, which adds to the amount of fentanyl overdoses, the researchers explained.

“Fentanyl is different than heroin or other opioids in the way that it stimulates the nervous system. It activates the same receptors in the brain as heroin or morphine but does so by a different mechanism, which makes drugs that can reverse a heroin overdose, like Narcan, almost ineffective against it,” Kosten noted.

“We will also evaluate multi-dose strategies, followed by single dose immunisation, heterologous vaccination strategies, and the impact of waning immunity,” said Kosten.

According to the American Medical Association, more than 40 states in the US are reporting increases in deaths from opioids. In June, a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 13 per cent of adult respondents in the US reported starting or increasing opioid use to deal with stress or emotions related to the pandemic.