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Drugs to Vaccinate You... Against Drugs!

My friend Grant Smith over at Drug Policy Alliance has commented on NIDA research to develop vaccinations and the philosophical implications of "robbing entire future generations of the basic human right to have freedom of choice and sovereignty over their bodies and minds." As a follow-up, I'd like to point out here the danger from a straight medical perspective. The questions of whether a vaccine will work, what its side effects may be, and what the likelihood is of experiencing such side effects are questions that go along with the development of any new medication. But there is something fundamentally different -- medically and scientifically -- about the concept of a vaccine to permanently disable a person from experiencing the effects of ingesting a drug. First, the neurological system that goes to work when one tries to "get high" is intimately tied to the rest of our neurology -- getting a thrill from chocolate or a rush from exercise, for example, involves some of the same chemical interactions in the brain that are involved in smoking a cigarette or snorting cocaine. I'm not saying that the acts are the same, but they are biochemically similar and related. They have to be -- each of us only has one brain, after all. Second, most drugs, both legal and illegal, either are used medically now or are highly similar to drugs that are used medically now. Cocaine and methamphetamine are both schedule II substances -- highly regulated, but used in medicine. Meth is from the same family as the widely used Ritalin. Heroin is a close variant of morphine. I don't know of current medical uses for nicotine, but I don't think it can be categorically ruled out for all time. Could a vaccination to block the euphoric effects of these drugs interfere with the ability of the same or similar drugs to produce the medical benefits for which they are also used? The only way to really know for sure is to do test people for it. But because only a fraction of all children go on to experience the medical problems that would be treated by the drugs, to do such a test and have sufficient data for it to be meaningful would require vastly expanding the number of kids who have to be given the vaccination initially as part of the research. And possibly excepting Ritalin use, the data would not come in for several decades, because most people acquire the afflictions for which the medications are used late in life. So in addition to the disturbing philosophical implications that Grant has explored, I really see this direction as inherently reckless from a straight medical perspective -- there is just no truly reliable way to know whether the treatment administered to toddlers or grade-schoolers now could put them in a box with respect to medical treatment down the road -- there's just no feasible way to gather enough data in advance, and if we did we might still not find out for 70 years. Rank this one right up there with the drug-fighting franken-fungus -- don't go there!
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Scary stuff

It's hard to strike a balance, at least for me (I'm currently in the midst of helping my husband pick up the pieces from a very destructive heroin binge), between the positions you guys propose and the positions of The Man...before the situation with my husband emerged, I was a proponent of legalization/decriminalization. I've seen first hand, though, the devastating effects of addiction, and even if heroin were legal, the havoc it's wreaked on my husband's body and his very real, physical reaction to it is scary. I don't want the government in my business...but I do think that research like the kind your criticizing here is moving in a direction that might help people like my husband who are mentally ill, and who can't put the drugs down once they pick them up...

I agree with the above post.

I agree with the above post. Vaccinations that prevent the effects of various drugs could be highly beneficial to addicts trying to go clean. The idea of vaccinating children is ethically abhorrent, however. Something to keep in mind is that I don't think any of the vaccinations currently under development promise to erase highs with one injection: the inhibiting effects aren't permanent and injections are needed every so often to maintain the effects. I'm not sure there will ever be a way to permanently stop someone from getting high with a vaccination, and furthermore the position in the news article, that vaccinating people in this manner will negate the effects of medically approved drugs, is a very real problem which I imagine would make the "vaccinating our youth against drug" thing never happen.

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