Specialty Behavioral Health

Self Help Library

View other articles in Library...

Cocaine Vaccine Shows Promise

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.

What’s Next

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.

1 Comment »

  1. I had a couple of questions re: this post that I thought were interesting and I wanted to share them along with my answers.

    Q- Does the vaccine last indefinitely, or does it wear off?
    A- Apparently, it wears off after several months. It is still not entirely clear how often patients would need to have “booster” immunizations.

    Q- Would the cocaine vaccination potentially block the effectiveness of medications that are similar to cocaine?
    A- Theoretically, yes. However, cocaine has a fairly unique molecular structure and it is unlikely to interfere with most prescribed medications that are CNS stimulants. Again, the jury is still out on this, but question is an interesting and important consideration.

    Comment by Jim Carter, Ph.D. — June 10, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>