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Vaccinating against addiction

May 21, 2012

I encourage anyone with some spare time on their lunch break today to check out a commentary on the ethics of vaccines for addictive drugs that is sure to induce imaginary kung-fu beard-stroking. Vaccines against cocaine, nicotine, methamphetamine, and morphine are already undergoing clinical trials. These vaccines generally function by binding up the active chemicals in the bloodstream, which makes them unavailable to the brain (where their effects are ultimately achieved). Their up-and-coming availability highlights the need for serious ethical conversations now, before these drugs are commercially available.

Who will get these drugs? Clearly, people enrolled in substance abuse programs are likely candidates for these vaccines. But what about those with drug-related convictions, for whom submitting to vaccination might mitigate prison time? In this instance, there are many parallels to the chemical castration of sex offenders as a condition of parole, which is not without its own ethical tangles. However, will people without obvious indications of substance abuse be administered such anti-addiction vaccines? Could vaccination be required as a condition of immigration or college admission, as is vaccination against bacterial meningitis? Middle-school students, who already must receive mandatory hepatitis and Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccines? What about the recipients of social welfare or persons employed by a business or government? After all, welfare recipients were subjected to drug tests and employers can refuse to hire smokers in some states.

Addiction is complicated. The biochemistry of addiction is only part of the picture. Cognitive and behavioral issues associated with addiction would not be addressed by a vaccine, and some substance abusers might attempt to overwhelm vaccines with excessive quantities of a drug, especially without appropriate psychological intervention. Because of these complexities, “vaccination against addiction” is a misleading phrase.

What do you think? Could vaccination help communities decimated by addiction, such as methamphetamine-stricken Appalachia? Would you have your children vaccinated for it? Would you get the vaccine?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    May 21, 2012 2:57 pm

    Despite this being a very thoughtful and provoking post, I choose instead to skip to making a joke about getting a “shot” to prevent alcohol addiction. zing!

  2. June 12, 2012 5:50 pm

    The drug Antabuse has been used for quite some time now to control alcoholism. However, in most programs, I believe the patient must be voluntary, in therapy and sober for at least 3-6 months. I am all for medication to help control relapse…IF the patient is willing. But I don’t feel that ANY vaccination should be mandatory for anyone. The key point you make is that biology is only part of the problem. If cognitive and behavioral issues are not addressed, then any chemical treatment is just a bandaid and simply removing the chemical receptors could even lead to more serious behavioral issues if the subject has no outlet. The way our society relies on medication to cover up health problems, I do not think this is the way to go in treating addiction.

    • June 12, 2012 5:55 pm

      So, do you not believe that vaccination against diseases should be mandatory? Or just that drug vaccinations should not be mandatory?

      What if the vaccination of pre-teens could effectively create “herd immunity” against drug sub-cultures by mostly removing the peer pressure allure of drug use? Then you would have far fewer behavioral and cognitive problems to deal with in former and recovering addicts. A thought!

      • June 13, 2012 9:06 am

        This is a sticky subject with research on both sides of the argument. Right now there is not federal law mandating vaccines, but to attend school most children are required to have a vaccine regiment. Some schools are now requiring the chickenpox vaccine, which is now creating resistant, reoccurring strains of chickenpox. So, no, I don’t feel that vaccinations should be mandatory.

        You raise an interesting point…but users are users and they will always be part of society. I don’t think it is something we could weed out with a vaccine. They would just find something else to use. Add to that the fact that almost all recreational drugs have legitimate uses somewhere, what if someone that is vaccinated someday needs that drug and it is no longer effective for them?

      • June 13, 2012 9:43 am

        I think you’re right about the fact that there will always be users. And you make a good point about potentially negating the effects of therapeutic drugs!

        I would like to see evidence of this recurrent chicken pox. I just looked up “resistant chickenpox” and “recurrent chickenpox” and found no results consistent with what you’re describing. My fear is that the growing movement for voluntary vaccination will allow formerly vanquished diseases like polio to recrudesce.

  3. June 13, 2012 2:10 pm

    What I’ve heard is from first-hand experience only. Child is vaccinated and gets chickenpox, not only once as the article discusses, but a second time, and was more than mildly ill.
    Here is an article:

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