Heroin is a highly addictive drug and the most widely-abused drug, according to the National Institute on Drug Use. Heroin is made from morphine, which comes from the seed pod of certain poppy plants. This highly addictive drug is easily abused and people quickly become dependent.
Drug abuse habits are not easily cured; addicts will go through mental and/or physical withdrawals. Participating in a drug treatment program can help them get back on their feet, but relapse is common. Now, however, researchers are on the verge of developing a heroin vaccine that would stop relapses. The vaccine works to stop the heroin from entering the brain, which stops the addict from wanting more.
Dr. Kim Janda and his fellow researchers at The Scripps Research Institute have developed a vaccine for heroin, based on preclinical tests. To test their vaccine, researchers vaccinated rats who were given heroin.
In one test, in order to get the heroin, the rats had to press a lever three times. After that, the rats were no longer given heroin via the lever. Researchers then gave the heroin vaccine to some of the rats. The rats that received the vaccine stopped pressing the lever, while the unvaccinated rats went right back to pressing the lever. Researchers then took the study a step further and tested the vaccine on rats who were severely addicted to heroin and taking so much of the drug that it would kill another rat that did not have the same tolerance to the drug.
These severely-addicted rats had to abstain from taking heroin for 30 days, after which they were given access to the drug again. The unvaccinated rats returned to taking heroin excessively, but the rats that were given the heroin vaccine did not re-develop compulsive drug-taking behavior.