Researchers developed a vaccine that helped ward off addiction to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80–100 times stronger than morphine.
While the vaccine, developed by scientists at Scripps Research, was not tested on humans, researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine said that before being given the vaccine, rats were more likely to gravitate towards fentanyl over food. However, within a month of receiving the vaccination, the rats were more likely to choose food over fentanyl. The vaccination also appeared to prevent them from relying on the drug during a period of withdrawal.
The researchers said these findings suggest that in the future, vaccines targeting opioids could be used to treat drug addiction and withdrawal symptoms, though additional trials need to be conducted on humans.
Still, the team warns that this type of vaccine may not work for everyone, especially those with weaker immune systems, as individuals’ immune systems would need to efficiently respond to the vaccine in order for it to be effective. In addition, they said that because the vaccine worked best after several weeks, people may fall victim to the drugs’ effects before the vaccine is able to help them.
“More effective and readily available treatments for opioid use disorder are needed to tackle the current crisis. One strategy includes using opioid-targeted vaccines to elicit antibody production by the host’s immune system that recognize and block the passage of a specific opioid into the brain and peripheral organs/tissue,” said lead researchers Matthew L. Banks and Kim D. Janda in an announcement.