Research groups nationwide begin work on vaccines to prevent opioid overdoses

At least three research groups in the US are currently looking to create an opioid vaccine as a shot to stem the overdose epidemic. Opioid overdoses accounted for the majority of drug deaths in 2020.

The vaccine would not prevent cravings for the drug but it could serve as an added layer of protection for people at high risk. If they end up using oxycodone, the antibodies would bind to it and prevent it from getting to the brain. Opioids kill by entering the brain, triggering a person’s body to slow breathing down to dangerous levels.

The trial to test the possibility of an opioid vaccine is being led by Sandra Comer, a professor of neurobiology in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Marco Pravetoni of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Participants are in active phases of addiction and are being housed for 10 weeks during the study.

Researchers must give the participants nonlethal doses of opioids, including heroin, after the experimental vaccine to see how it works. If it ultimately proves to be effective, an opioid vaccine would be an “important and lifesaving option,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We need as many effective tools as possible to accelerate our ability to prevent and treat opioid use disorder and overdose.”

Drug overdoses killed a record 93,331 people in the U.S. last year alone. Opioids accounted for about 70 percent of such deaths. In 2019 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 1.6 million people were reported to have an opioid use disorder, meaning a physical dependence to opioids that’s nearly impossible to quit, even with help from professionals [NBC News].



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