- Published: October 30, 2012
With the rapid development in neuroscience, drug addiction is now thought to cause physical changes in the brain. More specifically, drugs of abuse hijack reward and decision-making systems by reinforcing from drug-induced increases in dopaminergic activity and making the brain becomes physically dependent on the chemicals provided by the drug taking. Because of this, researchers have been seeking for medical solutions to drug addiction problem, which lead to the creation of cocaine vaccines.
Unlike preventive vaccines, cocaine vaccines would be administered after someone had already succumbed to an addictive drug. Like shots against disease, these vaccines would work by spurring the immune system to produce antibodies that would shut down the narcotic before it could take root in the body, or in the brain. So far, even though cocaine vaccines have been tested on mice and shown extraordinary results, they are still not widely used as a medical treatment for humans on drug addiction. In Dr. Janda’s experiment, for example, cocaine addicts who had been vaccinated with one vaccine formulation before they snorted cocaine reported feeling like they’d used “dirty coke”. However, not one of Dr. Janda’s vaccines has won approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Another such vaccine, TA-CD, also shows the following concerns: danger and ineffectivity. The vaccine shows promise but could also be dangerous; some of the addicts participating in a study of the vaccine started doing massive amounts of cocaine in hopes of overcoming its effects. Not only are the vaccines dangerous, they haven’t been shown to achieve complete abstinence as well. Only 38 percent of people who received vaccine injections reached antibody levels that were high enough to dull the effects of the drug. And the antibodies only stayed active for eight to 10 weeks after the last shot.
I think that it is critical for neuroscientific drug addiction treatment to play an active role both in law and in drug policy. It’s possible that in the near future, we’ll be able to target specific behavioral and medical treatments for specific addictions. Since people who are well-cured will no longer be dangerous in the streets, we can help people not only get out of addiction but also reduce their sentencing.