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New Vaccine Could Prevent Fentanyl Overdose

Health

Professor Therese Kosten and founding member of the UH Drug Discovery Institute Colin Haile | Image by University of Houston/Website

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Researchers claim they developed a vaccine that could block the effects of fentanyl. It has only been tested on rats, but the results look promising.

According to the study, the experimental vaccine stimulates T-cells in the immune system, prompting them to generate antibodies with the ability to bind to fentanyl in the bloodstream. Once the antibodies are attached to the fentanyl particles, the drug can no longer affect neurons in the brain. It can then be flushed out through the kidneys.

Colin Haile, the study’s lead author and associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston, said that once an individual receives the vaccine, they will “not feel the euphoric effects [of fentanyl] and can ‘get back on the wagon’ to sobriety.”

The experimental vaccine is designed to specifically target fentanyl, meaning that an individual would still be able to receive the pain-relieving effects of morphine and other opioids.

While fentanyl can be used safely in a medical setting, its potency makes it extremely dangerous as a street drug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose, and the Drug Enforcement Agency has found illegal pills containing more than twice the lethal dose.

Fentanyl is also short-acting, which renders naloxone — an intra-nasal drug used to treat narcotic overdoses — less effective.

“Multiple doses of naloxone are often needed to reverse [fentanyl’s] fatal effects… This pharmacodynamic efficacy challenge can be addressed using immunotherapies that prevent [fentanyl] from entering the brain preemptively circumventing its reinforcing and overdose effects,” Haile’s study reads.

The Amethyst Recovery Center states on its website that while some people actively seek out fentanyl for its potency, many users do not know they are even consuming it at all. Dealers often mix fentanyl into heroin and other drugs to increase their strength, sometimes outright marketing fentanyl as heroin.

Over the years, fentanyl use has skyrocketed. In 2021, 79,000 Americans aged 18-45 died from a fentanyl overdose — nearly doubling from a year prior. Consequently, fentanyl is the number one cause of death for Americans aged 18-45.

The Dallas Express has been following the fentanyl epidemic as the illicit drug pours in from the southern border. In a news release last week, Governor Gregg Abbott said that border officials have “seized enough deadly fentanyl to kill every man, woman, and child in the nation.”

Still, even though the vaccine has only been tested on rats, researchers “expect there to be no adverse events when this vaccine is tested in humans.” If the vaccine proves effective in human clinical trials, it would be a significant step forward in the fight against fentanyl overdoses.

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