Hopes are running high for an addiction vaccine in the wake of recent comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who called the prospects for such a shot “exciting.”
An inoculation would make it easier for people to stop using opioids. That is, after receiving the vaccine, individuals would no longer get a rush or feeling of euphoria from the drugs.
“One of the exciting things that they’re actually working on is a vaccine for addiction, which is incredibly exciting,” Price said at a news conference on the opioid epidemic. And according to the National Institutes of Health, vaccines will one day “be available to sustain abstinence, even prevent addiction.”
That’s a tall order. Medical experts say such vaccines are a ways off, pointing out that none has begun human trials. Even then, the vaccine would have to go through phase one, two and three trials before being submitted to the FDA for approval. That process takes years. And the first such inoculations to reach the market would treat people in recovery as opposed to being of the preventive order given in childhood for such diseases as the measles and mumps.
“I can’t imagine the vaccine would be on the market before the Trump administration is over,” Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN. For his part, Kosten is working on a shot that targets fentanyl, an opioid considered to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
But the vaccine approach is indeed showing promise at a time when the country is desperately in need of a fix in the battle against heroin and other opioid drugs. The most recent federal data shows that in 2015, 33,000 deaths were blamed on opioid overdoses. The epidemic affects all demographics, teens and seniors, rich and poor. Going forward, the situation looks even more dire. “The numbers in 2016 are no better, and the numbers in 2017 are even worse than 2016,” Price said.