A simple shot could be the latest tool in curbing cocaine abusers' habits, says new research. The vaccine-like shot not only kept them from getting high but also helped them fight their addiction, showed the first successful rigorous study of this approach to treating illicit drug use.
The shots didn't work perfectly, but the researchers say their limited success is promising enough to suggest the intriguing vaccine approach could be widely used to treat addiction within several years.
"It is such an important study. It clearly demonstrates ... that it is possible to generate vaccine that could interfere with cocaine actions in the brain," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study.
The results come just days after that government agency announced plans for the first late-stage study of an experimental nicotine vaccine designed to help people quit smoking. The NicVAX vaccine has been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration, and the research will be paid for with federal stimulus money.
vaccines both use the same approach, stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that attach to molecules of the drugs and block them from reaching the brain.
In the new study, cocaine-fighting antibodies helped prevent users from getting a euphoric high and led nearly 40 percent of them to substantially cut back or stop cocaine use at least temporarily.
With more than 2 million cocaine abusers nationwide and no federally approved treatment, the results "are good enough — better than having nothing," said lead author Dr. Thomas Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He developed the vaccine used in the study.
The study appears in October's Archives of General Psychiatry, released Monday.