A research team headed by the University of Houston has created a vaccine that might prevent the harmful synthetic opioid fentanyl from entering the brain, preventing the drug’s “high.” As the study states: “The vaccine also decreased FEN brain levels following drug administration.”
The groundbreaking finding may significantly affect the nation’s opioid crisis by helping those attempting to stop taking opioids to avoid relapse. Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is curable, according to a study, although 80% of those who get addicted to the drug have a relapse.
The results, which were reported in the journal Pharmaceutics, could not be more pertinent or in demand: Fentanyl, which is more potent than heroin (50 times) and more powerful than morphine (100 times), is one of the most deadly synthetic opioids.
The CDC states it causes over 150 deaths every day. Depending on a person’s size, ingesting roughly 2 milligrams of fentanyl (the equivalent of two rice grains) is likely to be lethal.
What makes the drug so dangerous is that it’s difficult to detect without proper testing. As the CDC states: “Drugs may contain deadly levels of fentanyl, and you wouldn’t be able to see it, taste it, or smell it. It is nearly impossible to tell if drugs have been laced with fentanyl unless you test your drugs with fentanyl test strips.”
According to the study’s lead author, Colin Haile, these findings could be a game changer: “We believe these findings could have a significant impact on a very serious problem plaguing society for years – opioid misuse. Our vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to the consumed fentanyl and prevent it from entering the brain, allowing it to be eliminated out of the body via the kidneys. Thus, the individual will not feel the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety,”
Another encouraging discovery was that the vaccine had no adverse side effects on the inoculated lab rats. The team intends to produce vaccines of clinical quality in the following months, and human clinical trials are set to follow.
Due to its frequent addition to illicit substances like cocaine, and methamphetamine, other opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone/acetaminophen tablets, and even fake benzodiazepines like Xanax, fentanyl poses a particularly severe hazard.
In addition, these fentanyl-laced counterfeit drugs increase the number of fentanyl overdoses in people who don’t typically use opioids.
“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” according to Haile.
The novel vaccine has the potential to be a “game changer,” according to Therese Kosten, professor of psychology and program director for UH’s Developmental, Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience department.
According to Kosten, senior author of the study, “Fentanyl use and overdose is a particular treatment challenge that is not adequately addressed with current medications because of its pharmacodynamics and managing acute overdose with the short-acting naloxone is not appropriately effective as multiple doses of naloxone are often needed to reverse fentanyl’s fatal effects,”
How Social Media Reacted
Users on Twitter had mixed reactions. Some were thrilled and others didn’t think it will be enough, as one user named Siska states; “Wonderful but won’t addicts just move to another drug unless they get full treatment. Though I imagine it will save lives but shouldn’t we treat addiction immediately when they’re just beginning.”
The Department of Defense funded the study, and some Twitter users questioned: “Not saying funding for such research isn’t needed, but why does this need to come thru the DoD? (yes lots of soldiers with addiction issues, but there’s lots with cancer and heart disease, too). In a proper system, I don’t think this is a DoD project.”
The elephant in the room would be if Fenenaly users would take that vaccine. As user Go Green points out: “I’m skeptical that those who want the high will get vaccinated; however, I hope a fentanyl vaccine becomes widely available.”
Raf_Gutierrez points out other concerns aside from just blocking the “high”: “article states this would only stop the “high” effect. does that also stop the slowed/stopped breathing which is the cause of death in OD’s?”
Lastly, one user Aetius suggests shifting the focus: “The fentanyl crisis is not a medical or legal problem. It’s a cultural and psychological problem. Even if you block the use of opioids by forcible vaccination, people will use something else to get high”
Last Updated on November 16, 2022 by Davin