Vaccine That Blocks the High From Heroin is Making Progress

A vaccine developed at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to block the high of heroin has proven effective in non-human primates. This is the first vaccine against an opioid to pass this stage of preclinical testing.

“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” said study leader Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.

The vaccine works by exposing the immune system to a part of the heroin molecule’s telltale structure. This teaches the immune system to produce antibodies against heroin and its psychoactive products. The antibodies neutralize heroin molecules, blocking them from reaching the brain to cause a feeling of euphoria.

Researchers believe that blocking the high of heroin will help eliminate the motivation for many recovering addicts to relapse into drug use. In recent years, public health officials around the world have labeled heroin use as an epidemic.

The Janda Laboratory at TSRI has been working on their heroin vaccine for over eight years; the researchers had previously tested vaccine candidates under laboratory conditions and in rodents, where the strategy proved effective for neutralizing heroin.

For the new study in rhesus monkeys, the researchers redesigned their vaccine candidate to more closely resemble heroin, with the goal of better stimulating the immune system to attack this opioid.

The researchers found that the four primates that were given three doses of this vaccine showed an effective immune response and could neutralize varying doses of heroin. This effect was most acute in the first month after vaccination but lasted for over eight months. The researchers also found no negative side effects from the vaccine.

“We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials,” Janda said. He pointed out that the components of the vaccine have either already been approved by the FDA or have passed safety tests in previous clinical trials.

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Sad Story Illustrates the Opioid Overdose Epidemic in the USA

This sad story illustrates the cost of the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic in the USA.

A 7-year-old told her bus driver she couldn’t wake her parents. Police found them dead at home.

For more than a day, the 7-year-old girl had been trying to wake her parents.

Dutifully, she got dressed in their apartment outside Pittsburgh on Monday morning and went to school, keeping her worries to herself. But on the bus ride home, McKeesport, Pa., police say, she told the driver she’d been unable to rouse the adults in her house.

Inside the home, authorities found the bodies of Christopher Dilly, 26, and Jessica Lally, 25, dead of suspected drug overdoses, according to police.

Also inside the home were three other children — 5, 3 and nine months old.

Speaking before the state legislature last week in Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) told lawmakers that the opioid epidemic facing Pennsylvania is “a public health crisis, the likes of which we have not before seen. Every day, we lose 10 Pennsylvanians to the disease of addiction.

Nationwide, opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription drug, the CDC said, adding that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled nationwide since 1999.

The couple’s 7-year-old daughter asked the officer to sign her homework so she could turn it in at school the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Burton said. “She said, ‘I did my work.’ She pulled it out and showed it to us. It was math homework, (like) ‘Which number is greater? Which number is odd or even?’ … I told her, ‘Sweetie, you probably won’t have to go to school tomorrow. … But where you’re going is going to have everything you need.'”

The human cost of the ongoing epidemic of abuse of prescription and illegal opioids is hard to fathom. Addressing these challenges is not easy but stories like this should remind us how important it is for us to take on the task.

Related: President Obama Proposes $1.1 Billion in New Funding to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic (Feb 2016)Heroin Use Spikes Among Those Who Abuse Prescription Painkillers (2015)Funding Drug Addiction Treatment Would Cost 1/7 the Cost of the Current Criminal System Focused Policy