A vaccine for cocaine addicts?

For persons suffering from drug addiction, the road to recovery is long and fraught with pitfalls. While withdrawal programs featuring various therapeutic approaches may help promote sobriety, there is still no universal or highly effective solution to support patients during cocaine withdrawal.

For persons suffering from drug addiction, the road to recovery is long and fraught with pitfalls. While withdrawal programs featuring various therapeutic approaches may help promote sobriety, there is still no universal or highly effective solution to support patients during cocaine withdrawal.

According to the International Narcotics Control Board, cocaine is the second most widely used drug in North America, with an estimated 2.3 million users in the United States alone.

Researchers have been working for many years on a vaccine that could help cocaine addicts get rid of their dependence to the drug. Clinical trials suggest that this curative method may be effective in helping cocaine-dependent individuals cut their use of the substance and then remain drug-free.

Studies conducted on humans and animals have suggested that sufficient concentrations of anti-cocaine antibodies in the blood can stop addicts from experiencing the high associated with taking cocaine. In other words, the drug doesn’t produce the sought-after effects. A 24-week trial involving 115 cocaine-dependent individuals has shown that nearly two out of five participants who received the active vaccine reached sufficient antibody levels to obtain this effect. Those who had higher blood levels of antibodies remained more cocaine-free than the other study participants. Among those who continued to use cocaine, the proportion of participants who reduced their cocaine use by half was found to be almost twice as high for those treated with the active vaccine compared to the placebo group. Regular vaccine injections appear to be necessary, however, in order to maintain the product’s efficacy.

The vaccine does not destroy the cocaine in the body; rather, it produces antibodies that neutralize the cocaine and make it vulnerable to an enzyme responsible for breaking the substance down in the body. The trial found the vaccine to be safe, with the most common adverse reaction being tenderness at the injection site.

According to the researchers, it should be possible to develop vaccines for most addictive substances, except for alcohol (due to its small molecular size).

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