September 26, 2002
A future without drug addiction?

Tens of millions in the US and other countries try mind altering drugs for fun or escape. The biggest problem with this experimentation is that some percentage of the experimenters will move on to addiction:

If a person tries a drug once, what is the likelihood that he will become dependent on it? "Surprisingly high," said Kleber, who has studied the syndrome. In the case of nicotine, 32 percent of those who smoke will get hooked, according to a federal study. For heroin, the study shows, it's 23 percent; for cocaine, between 17 and 23 percent; for alcohol, 15 percent; and for marijuana, 9 percent.

Widespread affluence provides the money needed to fuel a black market that is at best difficult to control. The costs of drug abuse include physical damage that the drugs cause, an enormous cost in the criminal justice system to catch, try and incarcerate the sellers and users, the increased likelihood of the commission of other crimes by drug users, and the harm done to families, and ruined careers. Neither more strenuous enforcement or legalization promise to cause a substantial net decrease in those costs (all law-and-order and libertarian protestations to the contrary).

In light of the above is there any scientific and technological solution to the problem of human cravings for mind altering drugs? Well, yes, vaccines hold out the promise of treating existing addiction and even of preventing addiction from happening in the first place:

According to Dr. Frank Vocci, director of NIDA's Treatment Research and Development division, the antidrug vaccines can provide a powerful weapon against substance addiction, especially when combined with therapy and psychiatric medicine. And vaccines, which unleash an onslaught of drug-busting antibodies, can do what traditional treatment can't. "If a patient is in an emergency room with high methamphetamine levels and experiencing a cardiovascular crisis," says Vocci, "antibodies would bind the drug up and cause the individual to excrete it." In other words, an injection of antibodies could reduce the specter of death by overdose to a bad '70s flashback.

Though scientists have long used vaccines to trick the immune system into thwarting lethal diseases, the antidrug vaccines are a new breed, designed to attack pleasure-inducing chemicals that the brain craves. Some of these new vaccines use antibodies that bind to the illegal drug, render it inactive, and then leave the bloodstream.

If a vaccine has persistent effects that last for years should parents be allowed to force their children to be vaccinated? Should a government be allowed to force an entire population to be vaccinated? Or should a mandatory vaccination be a condition for a drug abusing criminal who seeks parole or probation? Some day these questions will cease to be hypothetical.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 September 26 03:46 PM  Biotech Society

Zack Lynch said at September 16, 2003 12:29 PM:


Found this post through Shaping Tomorrow. Addiction is a fascinating subject. My wife is a neuroscientist who spent years performing addiction research and plans on heading back in this direction in the future. I've also got some friends at UCSF's Wheeler Center for Addiction who are telling me they think they'll have some really effective treatments in about 10 years. I'm interesting in figuring out how we might actually leverage the neurobiology of addiction to accelerate learning and increase motivation. Best.

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