• An Oxycodone Vaccine Is on the Horizon
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    An Oxycodone Vaccine Is on the Horizon

    A person gets high when an ingested drug passes the blood-brain barrier and changes their brain chemistry. This happens because the usual transport cells that carry the drug are small enough to pass through the barrier.

    A new vaccine currently in preclinical trials will likely help prevent the opioid prescription drugs, specifically oxycodone and hydrocodone, from entering the brain. The usual transport cells are enhanced in size, making it impossible for them to pass through the blood-brain barrier. This recent research finding is offering a major breakthrough in treating oxycodone and hydrocodone abuse or addiction and dependence. Vaccinologists are pursuing a final version of the vaccine because the trials have proven to be so promising.

    Current Opioid Addiction Treatments

    The current treatment for opioid addiction includes two different means:

    • Psychosocial approaches like psychotherapy and group sessions
    • Drug detoxification and rehabilitation approaches with medications like naloxone (Narcan), methadone and disulfram (Antabuse)

    There needs to be a more preventive treatment option available, rather than just a drug rehab approach. A research study at the University of Minnesota is offering hope in the form of a vaccine that would be used to combat oxycodone and hydrocodone abuse.

    How Vaccines Work

    Vaccines can eradicate many diseases. Diseases like smallpox and polio have been controlled with the consistent use of vaccines. It is important to note that vaccines, any vaccines, are not a cure for a disease. A vaccine is a means by which the body’s immune system is given an opportunity to develop antibodies or protection against diseases and conditions by being given a tiny dose of that disease. In other words, a vaccine introduces a minute version of the disease, which causes the immune system to attack the disease. Once the antibodies have developed in response to a tiny dose of a disease, they begin circulating through the body and work to prevent any enemy invaders (or molecules) from entering and taking hold. This brief and controlled exposure to certain bacteria, viruses or toxins can create long-term immunity for the recipient.

    The anti-addiction vaccine would work according to this same principle, but in this case the enemy invaders would be prescription opioids. Vaccines use the body’s immune system to accomplish the goal of preventing a certain disease or, in this case, an addiction to a foreign substance.  Vaccines, including the new anti-opioid version, get the immune system primed to prevent the effects of disease–or in this case, to prevent the addictive effects of opioid drugs.

    How the Anti-Addiction Vaccine Will Work

    The goals of the oxycodone and hydrocodone vaccine are to stop the frequently-abused prescription drugs from entering the brain, and to suppress the drugs’ central nervous system (CNS) effects. The vaccine works to lower the user’s motivation to use and abuse the opioid medications by blocking the aforementioned CNS effects, specifically blocking the rewarding and reinforcing effects. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies. The antibodies bind to the target drugs, specifically oxycodone and hydrocodone, which create cell complexes that are too big to cross the blood-brain barrier. If those drugs are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, the user does not experience the high that they are seeking from the drugs.

    The vaccine will most likely be used in combination with opioid pharmacotherapy like methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone. This combination will improve the effectiveness of both addiction treatment options. Vaccinated patients would still be able to undergo pain management, if needed for a specific medical condition, with other opioids like fentanyl.

    The Future Outlook

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced their five top health care challenges for 2014. The CDC’s number one priority is tackling prescription drug abuse, specifically, ensuring access while reducing prescription opioid deaths. With this goal as a priority, the U.S. will work to further finalize the research and clinical trials for the anti-opioid vaccine. At this time, the new anti-opioid vaccine is still in the experimental stages but holds great promise in treating addicts of oxycodone and hydrocodone.


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