Nearly 92,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose in 2020. About 75% of those cases involved opioids—specifically, a synthetic opioid called fentanyl.
Fentanyl is recognized as being 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is also incredibly lethal, even in small amounts. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just 2 milligrams, about the size of two grains of rice.
Fentanyl is sometimes added to street drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit Xanax without people realizing it. It’s estimated that 150 people per day die of fentanyl overdoses.
This epidemic and public health crisis is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. However, a new anti-fentanyl vaccine provides hope that this crisis may someday be brought to an end.
Current Treatment Options For Opioid Use Disorders
Currently, the most effective treatment for opioid addiction is a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. Medication-assisted treatments (MAT) are used to reduce cravings and withdrawal risk, ultimately helping people to stop using and avoid relapse.
Examples include methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. These medications block the effects of opioids (without affecting other narcotics), preventing the user from experiencing any of the pleasurable sensations associated with opioid use. Approximately 1.27 million people in the US are currently receiving medication-assisted treatments.
The main problem with these treatments is that their effects do not last very long, so multiple and frequent doses are needed. In many cases, daily doses of methadone or naltrexone are needed to manage opioid addiction.
The New Anti-Fentanyl Vaccine
In October 2022, a team of researchers from the University of Houston published their findings for a newly developed anti-fentanyl vaccine.
In their animal studies, they demonstrated that the vaccine was able to neutralize fentanyl and block its physiological effects without interfering with other medications. Rather than entering the brain, anti-fentanyl antibodies would bind to the fentanyl and cause it to be flushed out by the kidneys without causing harm.
The next stage of research will involve human clinical trials. The researchers expect that the vaccine will not cause any significant side effects, since the two main components of the vaccine—CRM197 (a carrier protein that helps to deliver the vaccine) and dmLT (an adjuvant that boosts the immune system’s response)—have been used in numerous other vaccines with no serious side effects reported.
If proven successful, this vaccine could prove to be a revolutionary tool in the fight against opioid addiction. It would provide a long-term reduction of the risks associated with fentanyl overdose deaths. It could potentially be used in combination with other therapies to help people manage their opioid addiction.
It is important to remember, however, that this vaccine is still in the research stage. It will be some time before it is available for general use.
Until then, if you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, it is important to seek professional help and support. The currently available treatment strategies can still make a big difference in helping to reduce the risks associated with opioid use.