A Vaccine for Drug Abuse? Maybe Someday

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Teen boy getting a vaccination in his arm.

You’ve likely gotten vaccines for many different diseases, like measles, hepatitis B, and tetanus. But NIDA researchers hope that someday a vaccine will help people avoid drug abuse too.

New research has already led to a heroin vaccine that works by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking heroin is a bacteria or virus. Immune cells attack the drug and block it from entering the brain. That way, heroin can’t cause its addictive effects, such as the first rush of euphoria.

It has only been tested in animals so far, but such a vaccine could be vital in helping those who are trying to stop using heroin. By blocking the drug’s effects, the vaccine could cause heroin to lose its power over the person. As one researcher says, the vaccine would not necessarily stop the person from craving the drug, but it could help the person stay strong in moments when they’re feeling very tempted.

Researchers are working to create vaccines for other drugs, like cocaine. You can watch an animation that shows how these vaccines might work:

Drug abuse vaccines are still a long way from being approved for people, and there are still a lot of questions about how they could be used. For instance, will only people already addicted to the drug get vaccinated? Could they also keep a person from starting to use a drug in the first place? Whatever the answer, vaccines offer a promising new way to fight drug abuse and addiction.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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