Is a vaccine for heroin addiction possible? When detoxing and treating opioid addiction, a few medications are likely to come into play. Buprenorphine is one such drug, most commonly prescribed in the form of Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone). The drug can be used for either acute detox symptoms, or as part of a maintenance regimen over extended periods of time. When it comes to the former, the buprenorphine reduces cravings and the naloxone prevents patients from abusing the drug. If Suboxone is used in unintended ways, such as intravenously, it will cause the user to experience withdrawal symptoms rather than euphoria.

While Suboxone is effective and a better alternative to methadone, it can be abused and dependence can form. Those who become dependent on the drug often say that Suboxone withdrawal symptoms are worse than heroin’s symptoms. Either way, in the grips of an opioid addiction epidemic, Suboxone has proven to be indispensable. Methadone on the other hand is not employed as much these days. In the past, it was considered to be a better alternative to addicts using heroin. It is occasionally used in detox situations, but for the most part the painkiller is used on chronic heroin relapsers for the purposes of addiction maintenance.

Last on the list is naltrexone, often prescribed in injectable form under the brand name Vivitrol. The injection is used monthly and is pretty expensive, so it is commonly prescribed in pill form under the name ReVia and Depade. Naltrexone is not so much a detox drug, but rather a deterrent. Patients taking the drug who relapse with heroin will not experience the euphoric and sedative effects of the drug. The drug binds and blocks opioid receptors, and some users report having reduced cravings, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Unlike Suboxone, naltrexone cannot be abused.

Reducing The Risk of Relapse

The three drugs mentioned above have helped many people detox from prescription opioids and heroin. For some, using buprenorphine or methadone in place of other opioid narcotics is considered to be the lesser of two evils. However, they are in no way ideal and carry inherent risk. Despite the presence of naloxone in Suboxone there is still a risk of overdose and the drug is habit-forming. Methadone, well… Not much really needs to be said, it is an opioid painkiller that can be used to treat pain. And, like its cousin heroin, it is addictive and can lead to overdose. In higher doses, it can prevent someone from feeling the effects of heroin, if they relapse.

In the past, we have mentioned how relapse rates are extremely high among people with an opioid use disorder. The available detox methods and treatments are effective, and often lead to long-term recovery. Nevertheless, those who relapse after a stint of abstinence are at great risk of overdose. If one is planning to relapse, they need on stop taking the Suboxone or naltrexone (pill form) ahead of time. With a lower tolerance, the risk of fatal overdose is exceedingly high. Which is one of the reasons that researchers are working to develop a vaccine for drugs like heroin and the deadlier synthetic—fentanyl.

A Vaccine for Heroin Addiction

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute created a vaccine that is effective against fentanyl, Science Daily reports. The team is also getting closer to a combination vaccine for both fentanyl and heroin. The vaccine has only been tested on animals, and human clinical trials are still in the planning stages. The drug works by stimulating production of antibodies that bind to the heroin molecules introduced to the blood stream. The antibodies prevent heroin from reaching the opioid receptors in the brain, keeping the user from getting high or overdosing. The research was presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“There is an urgent need to discover effective medications to treat substance use disorders. Increasingly, drug users are turning to opioids and powerful synthetic versions of these drugs that can sometimes be as much as 100 times more potent than heroin,” says Kim D. Janda, Ph.D., who led the research into the vaccines. “Moreover, many patients receiving treatment relapse.”

Detoxing From Opioids

If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids of any kind, please contact Boca Detox Center.Medical detox is extremely beneficial for achieving long-term recovery. While under our care, patients will be introduced the program of recovery and will be provided with tools to prevent relapse.