Here is an article detailing the work being done toward developing a vaccine against heroin. It seems like an ingenious concept, but a vaccine will hardly be an effective solution for opiate addiction by itself. Here are some of the reasons we must temper our enthusiasm over them:

  • These vaccines will not necessarily or effectively target other opiates, and certainly not other drugs of abuse. Some of the other drugs – such as methamphetamine – are routinely used by addicts alongside heroin. Even if one refrains from using heroin, but continues to abuse other drugs, he or she remains firmly entrenched in the drug-use lifestyle, and has no realistic chance of recovery as such.
  • These vaccines are at least a decade away, while the opioid epidemic is at a crisis level already, and getting worse.
  • If the history of pharmaceuticals has taught us anything, we must fully expect that – when available – these novel vaccines will be very highly priced, and not likely to be in the reach of many addicts. They will probably not get covered by Medicaid programs either.

Ultimately, it is never a bad idea to develop new tools to combat a scourge, particularly something as widespread and devastating as the opiate crisis. However, we must be cautious not to hype these new tools to unrealistic levels. Addiction remains a highly complex and recalcitrant problem, one which requires a multi-faceted approach to treat effectively. There simply is too much at stake here for us to have a ‘magic pill’ mentality with new treatments.