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Mexico on verge of vaccine to end heroin addiction

posted 24 Feb 2012, 11:13 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2012, 11:14 ]

Mexican researchers patent vaccine against heroin addiction that could transform drug rehabilitation treatments.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (FEBRUARY 23, 2012) (REUTERS) -  While Mexico grapples with a relentless barrage of drug-related violence, a group of its scientists hope to have found a cure to the entrapments of one of the world's most notorious narcotics - heroin.

Researchers at the country's National Institute of Psychiatry say they have developed a vaccine against heroin addiction, which has been successfully tested on mice and patented in the United States, institute director Maria Elena Medina said Thursday (February 23).

"What they are trying to do is to immunize the person so that the drug does not have an effect and that the person stops using it. The formula that we have in the clinic is in pre-clinic trials with animals and in this (process) we have made some significant advantages and it is related to the time that it stays in immunised animals and the level of antibodies," she said.

The researchers are now preparing to iron out any potential side effects and test it on humans, Medina told a group of journalists.

"If this works it will be a vaccine that needs to be injected into people who are heavily addicted, with a strong dependence and they had no success with other treatments and they decide to use this so they can stop using drugs," added Medina.

Scientists worldwide have been searching for drug addiction vaccines for several years but none have yet been fully developed and released on the market.

One group at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported significant progress in a vaccine for cocaine.

However, the Mexican scientists appear to be the closest in making a breakthrough on a heroin vaccine and have received funds from a U.S. research institute as well as the Mexican government.

"It's very exciting to see it recognised while reaching a stage that we have been waiting for for 15 years. We thought we'd be very far from achieving it and now there are various laboratories that see it can be promising and bring new opportunities," Medina said.

The vaccine functions by making the body resistant to the effects of heroin, so users would no longer get a rush of pleasure when they smoke or inject it.

During the tests, mice were given access to deposits of heroin over an extended period of time. Those given the vaccine showed a huge drop in heroin consumption.

For drug addicts who have lost everything from crippling addiction, a potential vaccine is a lifeline.

"It's been 15 days since I read in the newspaper that Mexico has patented a vaccine to combat heroine (addiction). I haven't heard anything more about it. If something exists to help me to give up drugs I would try it. I have ruined my life and lost a lot," one addict told Reuters.

In the throes of a brutal war on cartels, the vaccine could help ease U.S. drug demand that causes major violence in Mexico.

Every year, the heroin industry provides billions of dollars to violent Mexican crime families such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas.

Since 2006, cartel violence has claimed the lives of more than 47,000 victims in Mexico.

A U.S. scientist working on his own narcotics vaccine in California said the vaccine could function but with some shortcomings.