A snort and a shot: a vaccine for cocaine

Two Baylor College of Medicine scientists have developed a cocaine vaccine, currently in clinical trials, that stimulates the immune system to attack the real thing when it’s taken, The Houston Chronicle reports. As a result, cocaine no longer provides a kick.
“For people who have a desire to stop using, the vaccine should be very useful,” Tom Kosten, a psychiatry professor who was assisted in the research by his wife, Therese, a psychologist and neuroscientist, tells the paper. “At some point, most users will give in to temptation and relapse, but those for whom the vaccine is effective won’t get high and will lose interest.”
Last month, Kosten asked the FDA to okay a multi-institutional trial to begin in the spring, which presumably would be the final clinical hurdle before the vaccine might be approved for treatment. Approval would mark a breakthrough in treating cocaine addiction, which now mostly involves psychiatric counseling and 12-step programs. Over the years, Kosten notes, more than 50 pharmaceutical options have been investigated and found wanting.
A vaccine may raise ethical questions, given that it will probably be used for prevention, not just treatment, and the large number of cocaine addicts in the US; more than 2 million, according to estimates. Questions include whether parents would be allowed to have their children inoculated; whether it would amount to coercion to make it a condition for lighter criminal sentences; whether employers might happen upon such info and use it discriminatorily; and whether to use it on pregnant addicts to protect the fetuses.
Such issues also apply to methamphetamine, heroin and nicotine vaccines, which Kosten is also researching. “Anti-drug vaccines may provide an important weapon against addiction,” Frank Vocci, director of treatment research and development at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which funded much of the research, tells the paper. “We’re starting to see progress. We just need to see more.”
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