Opioid vaccine could rein in addictions? Shot in development targets fentanyl, blocks drug from reaching the brain

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Research is underway to develop a twice-per-year vaccine that may help people overcome opioid addiction. The vaccine, which is being funded in part by a $25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (HEAL), targets fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

“This could be a game changer for addiction,” Therese Kosten, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, said, according to a news release posted on EurekAlert.org.

Fentanyl was named the deadliest drug in America by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in recent years, beating out heroin and oxycodone. Authorities marked a 113% increase per year between 2013 and 2016 in the number of deaths involving the drug. 

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[R]esearchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Houston explained that the vaccine would work to protect the brain and nervous system by stimulating the body to create antibodies that target and bind to opioid molecules, preventing them from crossing the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain. By blocking the drugs from the brain, the vaccine would reduce the respiratory depression brought on by opioids when they reach the brain.

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