Could an Anti-Drug Vaccination Make 'Just Say No' Go Away?

"But we do it. We now require the Hepatitis B vaccine for every child in America," he adds. "The only people who are at risk [for Hepatitis B] are health workers, intravenous drug users or needle sharers, or people who are sexually promiscuous and often have unprotected sex. Not your average child."

Cho echoes his concerns. "This vaccine is encouraging the belief that we can make problems go away," she says. "The only way we're going to do that is by talking to our kids and knowing where they are and who they're with."

"It's not that there is no place for a vaccine like this," she continues. "But it's not here, with kids."

The Way They Work

The vaccines work similarly to other vaccinations. Antibodies that recognize cocaine as an intruder are injected into the bloodstream. Once the anti-bodies have been introduced, they attach themselves to the cocaine, preventing and "neutralizing" the effect of the drug.

Cocaine, a very small chemical molecule in comparison to most "infections," can usually slip through undetected and alter the body to get the high associated with the drug. However, even if you do take some cocaine with the antibodies in your system, your body will not respond with a high.

Work is underway researching another type of vaccination, one which would teach the body to make its own antibodies against the drug like most traditional children's vaccines such as polio or the measles. The current anti-cocaine antibodies are part of another vaccine type. To keep the antibodies in your system, the current vaccine would require booster shots like those for tetanus with much more frequency, maybe as often as every few weeks.

Considering the involved process, Landry's skepticism towards using the vaccines as a preventative is not unwarranted.

His thoughts are shared by Dr. Kim Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, and principle investigator of Scripps' work towards a drug super-vaccine. He says he doubts that there could be the long-term effects necessary for a child's inoculation.

"You'd need an almost constant booster," Janda says. "We have no idea if this would work in the long-term, and at this point, [an initial vaccine] definitely wouldn't last through the interim years" until the child is of an age to try cocaine.

"People have this idea that [an anti-drug vaccine] is a magic cure to surmount addiction," he adds. "It's just not realistic."

Back to the Future

There is no doubt that if they worked well, immuno-pharmacological agents like the anti-drug vaccines or one of the Food and Drug Administration's most recent approvals, Campral, an addiction aid for alcohol dependent individuals, would change the world of addiction treatments.

Dr. Paul Appelbaum, former Vice-President of the American Psychiatric Association, director of the Law and Psychiatry program, and professor and chair of the Psychiatry program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in Worcester, MA, says that the vaccine "could be good at controlling that craving that comes with withdrawal."

But Appelbaum stresses that the vaccine's "first use is treatments for people who already have an addiction and have made a voluntary decision" to quit.

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