Fentanyl Vaccine Won’t Address Underlying Reasons Why Addicts Use Drugs
News broke in November 2022 that scientists are on the verge of finalizing a fentanyl vaccine. Considered a harm reduction approach, the vaccine is designed to block the ability of fentanyl to enter the brain and cause the high that users seek. While the vaccine may help save lives, an addict who gets a fentanyl vaccine is still an addict. If they don’t seek qualified drug treatment to help them address the underlying reasons why they’re seeking drugs, they will almost certainly find a different drug to use as a coping mechanism.
A New Development in Combating the Opioid Addiction Epidemic
A new fentanyl vaccine has been announced, though it’s still in the clinical trials stage of development. If completed and approved for human use, the purpose of the medication will be to help recovering addicts protect themselves from relapse by essentially shutting off the section of their brain that craves fentanyl. While the medication would not protect addicts from an overdose if they used fentanyl, the intense euphoria and “high” that they would normally experience while using the drug will not manifest. In this way, the proposed fentanyl vaccine removes most users’ incentive to seek out fentanyl.
“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.”
Speaking to how the vaccine works, study author Colin Haile, a research associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, had this to say: “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. 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.” If the experiments pan out in clinical trials, the vaccine could be a way to help recovering addicts avoid relapse and stay sober.
The Term “Vaccine” Could be Misleading
Some are critiquing the use of the term “vaccine” to describe a drug that might reduce the mind-altering effects of fentanyl. Vaccines are defined as medicines that protect patients from illness. And while the fentanyl vaccine may reduce or even eliminate the mind-altering effects of fentanyl, someone who’s been “vaccinated for fentanyl” would still experience an overdose if they consumed fentanyl. They just wouldn’t experience the mind-altering effects of the drug.
The medicine being developed and tested to curb fentanyl’s effects would be better described as a “fentanyl deterrent” rather than a “fentanyl vaccine.”
Even with the Benefits, a Fentanyl Vaccine is Not a Full Solution
Just two milligrams of fentanyl are enough to kill a human. With 150 Americans dying every day from overdoses of fentanyl and fentanyl-like analogs, we must do everything we can to prevent people from using this drug. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, about two-thirds of all fatal overdoses in America today are caused by fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. It is now the most lethal drug in America, responsible for more fatalities than all other drugs combined.
With that in mind, it will be good news for millions of opioid addicts if the University of Houston researchers succeed in producing a drug that blocks the mind-altering effects of fentanyl. A medication that could block the ability of fentanyl to enter the brain and cause the euphoric high that users crave would be a boon to those trying to get off opioids and stay off opioids for good.
But no vaccine or medication replaces qualified, residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs. Rehabilitation programs help recovering addicts get to the bottom of what led them to use drugs in the first place, providing them with tools, coping strategies, life skills, and resources to face life without using drugs as a coping mechanism.
- USNews. “A Vaccine Against Deadly Fentanyl Might Be Near.” U.S. News, 2022. usnews.com
- MDPI. “An Immunconjugate Vaccine Alters Distribution and Reduces the Antinociceptive, Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Fentanyl in Male and Female Rats.” Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 2022. mdpi.com
- DEA. “DEA Warns of Increase in Mass-Overdose Events Involving Deadly Fentanyl.” Drug Enforcement Administration, 2022. dea.gov