By DOUGLAS QUENQUA
SAN DIEGO – Imagine a vaccine against smoking: People trying to quit would light up a cigarette and feel nothing. Or a vaccine against cocaine, one that would prevent addicts from enjoying the drug’s high.
Though neither is imminent, both are on the drawing board, as are vaccines to combat other addictions. While scientists have historically focused their vaccination efforts on diseases like polio, smallpox and diphtheria — with great success — they are now at work on shots that could one day release people from the grip of substance abuse.
“We view this as an alternative or better way for some people,” said Dr. Kim D. Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute who has made this his life’s work. “Just like with nicotine patches and the gum, all those things are just systems to get people off the drugs.”
Dr. Janda, a gruff-talking chemist, has been trying for more than 25 years to create such a vaccine. Like shots against disease, these vaccines would work by spurring the immune system to produce antibodies that would shut down the narcotic before it could take root in the body, or in the brain.
Unlike preventive vaccines — like the familiar ones for mumps, measles and so on — this type of injection would be administered after someone had already succumbed to an addictive drug. For instance, cocaine addicts who had been vaccinated with one of Dr. Janda’s formulations before they snorted cocaine reported feeling like they’d used “dirty coke,” he said. “They felt like they were wasting their money.”
It’s a novel use for vaccines that has placed Dr. Janda, who is 54, in the vanguard of addiction treatment. Because addiction is now thought to cause physical changes in the brain, doctors increasingly advocate medical solutions to America’s drug problem, leading to renewed interest in his work.
The latest from Stanton Peele:
I was invited to the UK and Denmark to speak by harm reduction activists who are worried about the impact of AA and the 12 steps in their countries. Both Patrick O’Hare, who founded in Liverpool the organization now called Harm Reduction International, and Nanna Gotfredsen, founder and director of Copenhagen’s Street Lawyers, who run a clean needle program and other services for drug users and addicts, watch with alarm as the gains they have made dealing with addicts over previous decades erode. You see, both the British and the Danish governments are increasingly buying into the AA line that abstinence is the best and most achievable goal, both for individual addicts and for their nations.
Scientists are developing a “stay sober” pill which allows you to drink as much as you want while limiting the effects of alcohol on their brains. Read on…
It seems this pill is for people who want to drink alcohol without feeling the effects — not for people who want to quit drinking. This makes as much sense to me as a pill designed to let you eat as much as you want without getting full. It also sounds like a great recipe for alcohol poisoning.
What kind of people would this pill appeal to?