Ethical Implications of Heroin Vaccine

A heroin vaccine might not be not far off.  A study by the Scripps Research Institute in California tested a vaccine on rats and found that it’s possible to neutralize heroin’s effect before the sensation reaches the brain.  If used in humans, the vaccine would make it virtually impossible for a user to overdose on heroin.  The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published, “Dynamic vaccine blocks relapse to compulsive intake of heroin” on May 6, 2013.

Schlosburg and colleagues conducted studies where rats were allowed unlimited access to heroin over a 28 day period.  The rats were then detoxified over several weeks and divided into two groups, one of which was given the vaccine and the other, which was not.  Following the administration of heroin to both groups, vaccinated rats had more diluted levels of heroin in their blood stream compared to those who did not receive the vaccine.  In essence, researchers believe the vaccine is an “efficient blockade of heroin activity in treated rats, preventing various features of drugs of abuse: heroin reward, drug-induced reinstatement of drug seeking, and re-escalation of compulsive heroin self-administration following abstinence in dependent rats (Schlosburg et al 2013).”

What are the potential disadvantages to the development of vaccines that guard against risky behaviors (e.g. illicit drug use)?  What are the ethical dilemmas that development of these vaccines pose?

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Author: Jessica Bishop-Royse

Jessica Bishop-Royse is the SSRC’s Senior Research Methodologist. Her areas of interest include: health disparities, demography, crime, methods, and statistics. She often finds herself navigating the fields of sociology, demography, epidemiology, medicine, public health, and policy. She was broadly trained in data collection, Stata, quantitative research methodology, as well as statistics. She has experience with multi-level analyses, survival analyses, and multivariate regression. Outside of the work context, Jessi is interested in writing, reading, travel, photography, and sport.

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