A Cure for Drug Addiction?
Q. I recently saw a news item about a potential cure for cocaine addiction. Is this a realistic possibility?
Researchers studying cocaine addiction have been doing some very exciting work in recent years. Someday, we may have a cure or, perhaps, a vaccine to prevent it. Recently, a Maryland biotechnology company announced it is developing an antibody that may help cocaine addicts kick the habit. The antibody was produced by researchers at Columbia University in New York City. In animal studies, it successfully latched onto cocaine molecules and prevented them from having any pleasurable effect.
Elsewhere, vaccines against cocaine addiction are in varying stages of development. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is supporting animal research on several promising fronts. One substance under investigation is a compound called GBR 12909. When injected into cocaine-addicted rhesus monkeys, GBR 12909 substantially decreased their self-administration of cocaine. A slow-release derivative of this compound has been formulated and also tested on monkeys. A single injection lowered cocaine self-administration for more than three weeks. Another substance under investigation, PTT, has been shown to significantly reduce cocaine self-administration by monkeys after only a single injection.
In addition to these studies, neurobiologists at Yale University Medical School have discovered a biological process that may explain how people become addicted to cocaine and other drugs, including heroin, nicotine, and alcohol. The researchers found that repeated cocaine use triggers production of a protein in the brain that stimulates specific genes which can intensify the cravings for the drug. These findings have increased our understanding of the biochemical changes in the brain that underlie addiction and which persist even after cocaine use ends.
Promising as these advances are, it is important to remember that so far, most of the agents under study have been tested only on animals and are a long way from "curing" addiction in humans. If you're tempted to experiment with cocaine, remember that some individuals suffer heart attacks, strokes, or have fatal reactions with their very first use -- and 10 percent of those who do not suffer these consequences end up addicted to the drug.