As the United States government struggles to come up with effective methods to combat the opioid crisis, scientists have emerged with a new vaccine designed to not only prevent folks from suffering a fatal overdose, but one that will also stop prescription painkillers from producing the feel good effects that keeps the junkie brain coming back for more.
The scientific minds at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI)—one the largest, private non-profit research facilities in the world—have developed what is being called a “oxy/hydro vaccine,” which is a mega-defense drug-serum intended to prevent drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone from producing the highly sought after pain-numbing effects that lead to addiction. The vaccine could also be used to prevent opioid overdose deaths, according to a study published in the latest edition of the journal ACS Chemical Biology.
“We saw both blunting of the drug’s effects and, remarkably, prevention of drug lethality,” Kim D. Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI, said in a statement. “The protection against overdose death was unforeseen but clearly of enormous potential clinical benefit.”
The study, which was supported through a grant provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows the vaccine is different from other opioid antidotes in the way that it is more of a preventative measure rather than a last ditch effort to keep a drug addict alive.
Researchers explain the vaccine as a force that inspires the immune system to detect, hunt down and eliminate any and all opioid medications that enter the body. Essentially, the antibodies contained in the injection cleverly persuade the immune system to consider opioids the enemy, which prompts it to launch a full-blown, seek and destroy mission to eradicate the drug’s presence before it ever reaches the brain.
“The vaccine approach stops the drug before it even gets to the brain,” said Cody J. Wenthur, who co-authored the study. “It’s like a preemptive strike.”
Interestingly, the vaccine does not appear to be a weak concoction by any stretch of the imagination. Researchers reported that the antibodies injected into mice were still coursing through their veins after 60 days. They believe the vaccine even has the capacity to survive beyond that timeframe—potentially making it a revolutionary discovery in combating addiction.
The study authors said more research is needed in order to properly understand this phenomenon, but they feel confident that once they have a better grip on this aspect of the vaccine, it could then evolve into something even more effective than what they believe it to be at this point.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 80 Americans die each day from overdoses of prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. In fact, the mortality rate stemming from overdoses of these types of medications have quadrupled since 1999.
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