Vaccinating against addiction
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?