March 2, 2009
Can you guess why cocaine use in major cities on the east coast is going to be rampant today? It’s because the heavy snow storms make it very difficult for police to track and curtail the buying and selling of drugs. I’ve always been amazed by how small details can make a such big difference with drug use!
The news about the cocaine vaccine that I’m sharing in this blog is all about the details too. Over the past decade, researchers have been working tirelessly to develop an effective treatment for cocaine addiction, and the recent preliminary findings about a cocaine vaccine appear very promising.
How the Cocaine Vaccine Works
The researchers have attached inactivated cocaine molecules to an inactivated cholera toxin and inserted these larger molecules into the human body. The body begins to recognize the larger molecules as a threat and produces antibodies, just like with other vaccines. Interestingly, the body also begins to recognize the normal cocaine molecules as a threat and the antibodies prevent them from affecting the brain. So, when the vaccine is effective, the person no longer experiences the “high” of cocaine.
What We Know so Far About the Vaccine
So far, the vaccine has been used as an experimental treatment to prevent persons who have stopped using cocaine from relapsing to cocaine use. It has been given to study participants who were cocaine dependent, and also to study participants taking methadone who were cocaine and opioid dependent. We know that in the few clinical trials that have been conducted so far, the results have been fairly remarkable. In one trial, roughly half of the participants who took the vaccine appeared to not use cocaine for 6 months.
What This Means
I’m very excited about the vaccine because it holds great promise for individuals struggling with cocaine dependence and could be a major breakthrough for the entire treatment community. As many of us already know, the effects of cocaine dependence are devastating for individuals, their families, and society at large. Researchers have also reported a poor prognosis for the treatment of cocaine dependent individuals because of the self-reinforcing properties of cocaine, high rates of treatment drop-out, and lack of effective medications. This vaccine may be a new tool to help break the cycle of cocaine dependence. The vaccine will not decrease cravings or other symptoms of cocaine dependence, so counseling and involvement in social support groups will still be needed for effective treatment.
A larger scale, multi-site study in the U.S. is in the works. Pending the outcome of that study, the vaccine could be approved by the FDA and become available in treatment clinics (the process could take up to 2 to 3 years). And, the general concepts for developing the vaccine may be applicable to other drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin. So, the ramifications of the development of this first vaccine could be hugely positive. More than anything, I believe that these recent findings represent a sense of hope for persons struggling with addiction to drugs.