Need help keeping your busy life and your heroin habit going, asks the suburban mom? Try Heroin A.M., a product that combines heroin, caffeine and “a small pile of cocaine” to create the only nondrowsy heroin on the market. Continue reading
Despite the U.S. only being home to 5 percent of the world’s population, 80 percent of prescription pain pills are consumed here. Prescription painkiller overdoses now kill more Americans than car accidents, with one death every 19 minutes on average. These statistics are shocking, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta, writing for CNN, puts forward the case that our attempts to rectify these issues are actually leading to an increase in heroin abuse. Taking evidence from several pieces of research, including a new study looking at the increase in heroin abuse among rural and suburban whites, he explains how we need to focus on the underlying issue of addiction rather than directing our efforts toward specific substances.
A potential vaccine for heroin addiction that demonstrated very positive results in early animal trials isn’t currently being clinically studied—and most people aren’t even aware it exists—due to the difficulties in obtaining funding for drug vaccine research.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the number of deaths due to heroin overdose doubled across 28 states from 2010 to 2012, and the issues with heroin appear to be closely tied to the prescription drug abuse epidemic continuing across the U.S. Despite these growing issues, most people are still unaware of the promising heroin vaccine developed by researchers, such as Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute, because it isn’t being pursued.
The Vaccine: Stopping Heroin From Reaching the Brain
The vaccine developed by the Scripps team is unlike many of the medications currently used for heroin addiction. These either revolve around providing a longer-lasting dose of an opioid (which is ordinarily safer, but still leads to withdrawal when individuals try to come off the medicine, as seen with methadone) or by blocking the receptors in the brain that respond to opioid drugs (which also induces withdrawal). The vaccine from Janda’s team works like a sponge in the bloodstream, chemically binding to the heroin and blocking it from crossing over into the brain.
The positive finding for the vaccine came in the form of a preclinical trial from 2013, which found that heroin-addicted rats given the vaccine didn’t relapse and that the drug’s “rewarding” effects were effectively blocked. It could be the most promising vaccine for heroin abuse ever created. Dr. George Koob, who also worked on the study, commented that, “It’s really dramatic. You can inject a rat with 10 times the dose of heroin that a normal rat [could handle] and they just look at you like nothing happened. It’s extraordinary.”
Problems With Funding
With the rising problem of opioid addiction in the U.S., you may expect that such a finding would generate a lot of attention. Of course, results in rodents don’t necessarily translate to people, so real-world human trials are needed before the vaccine could be considered for widespread use. Janda said he receives at least one email per week from somebody requesting to be part of such a trial. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has set aside $27.1 million for research into addiction vaccines, but this sadly isn’t enough to perform the required human trials.
The problem is that such vaccines don’t get much support from pharmaceutical companies. According to Janda, “No pharmaceutical company is going to fund trials for heroin, no way. For meth? No way. Forget about it.”
Do Animal Results on Drug Vaccines Translate to Humans?
Although the rat results look positive for the heroin vaccine, there are a couple of fairly well-publicized recent findings that cast doubt on whether the vaccine would work in human trials. In 2014, a cocaine vaccine that looked promising based on animal results was tested in humans and showed no significant benefit for helping users quit, and a nicotine vaccine that previously looked promising ran into similar issues in 2011. However positive the animal results seem to be, there is always a very real possibility that the same won’t be true when a drug is tested in humans.
Traditional Addiction Treatments vs. Vaccines
Finally, there is an unavoidable issue with any addiction vaccine. Although there are physical components to addiction (the “rewarding” effect of the drug in the brain leading to addiction), there are unavoidable psychological components. In short, a vaccine could prevent heroin addiction, but it can’t have an effect on the underlying reasons the individual decided to take heroin in the first place. Vaccines can stop one drug from having its desired effect, but since psychological factors (for example, poor coping mechanisms for stress or depression) ordinarily underpin the decision to try drugs (as well as continue using them), these same factors could lead the individual to another substance.
There is a temptation to view the idea of drug vaccines with skepticism for this reason, but in reality there is no need to make it a decision between traditional addiction treatment and vaccines. If a vaccine like this one for heroin addiction was genuinely effective in humans, it could be combined with the essential psychological support and therapy required to understand and overcome addiction itself in order to provide multi-faceted treatment. These vaccines could become a vital tool in helping to reduce addiction.
The prescription drug epidemic may be showing signs of easing, according to new federal statistics, but the news isn’t as positive as it may sound. Every day in the U.S., 114 people die as a result of drug overdose, and the majority of these deaths are due to prescription medications. Newly released figures from 2012 show a reduction in prescription painkiller overdoses, but there has been a concurrent increase in heroin overdoses, which raises concerns that many prescription drug abusers are switching to the illicit opioid. The findings show that efforts to curb prescription drug abuse are enjoying some success, but they also raise serious concerns about the effectiveness of focusing on specific substances rather than addiction on the whole.
Heroin use in the U.S. is on the rise, and, with it, the number of victims of overdose. Any substance of abuse has the potential to cause a fatal overdose, but heroin is more dangerous than most. Some people accidentally take too much and die on their first use of heroin. If you love someone who is abusing heroin, he is at risk of dying from his habit. Learn more about overdose and share the facts to help convince him to get treatment and to stop using heroin.
Significant numbers of people throughout the U.S. abuse prescription opioid medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin. In turn, substantial numbers of the individuals who abuse these medications will eventually transition into use of the powerful opioid drug heroin. In a study published in May 2014 in the American Medical Association journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from two U.S. universities explored the reasons some prescription opioid abusers eventually initiate heroin use. These researchers concluded that any given person commonly has any one of three potentially overlapping reasons for making the transition from opioid medications to heroin.
Acetyl fentanyl is the name of an opioid substance closely related to a powerful opioid painkiller called fentanyl. While fentanyl has a legitimate medical purpose, acetyl fentanyl does not. However, manufacturers of the street drug heroin sometimes add acetyl fentanyl to batches of the drug as a heroin extender or replacement. In a study published in August 2014 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte addressed the possibility that some of the current increase in heroin overdoses across the U.S. may actually be attributable to the effects of acetyl fentanyl.
Anabolic steroids (more formally known as anabolic-androgenic steroids) are a group of medications intended to treat health conditions such as delayed-onset puberty, a lack of naturally occurring steroid hormones and unusual shrinkage of muscle tissue. However, some people abuse these medications by taking them in excessive amounts or taking them for reasons not sanctioned by a doctor. In a study published in June 2014 in the International Journal of Drug Policy, a team of British researchers explored the reported connection between anabolic steroid abuse and consumption of the powerful opioid drug heroin. These researchers concluded that heroin users sometimes have unique reasons for their anabolic steroid intake. Continue reading