But will the vaccine work? It must still be tested in humans, and that is not a quick process; It could take a decade or more, Dr. Matyas said, to have "a licensed product." Among the questions are how large the doses should be and how often they need to be administered. However, he is encouraged by the success he has had with laboratory mice and rats.
Much is in his experiments. Coping with the opiate epidemic is obviously a national imperative as overdoses skyrocket and more than 52,000 Americans die each year, an average of one every 10 minutes. While President Trump has proclaimed him a public health emergency, he has not yet offered specific solutions other than urging the death penalty for drug traffickers.
His secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, has gone further, endorsing an expansion of what is known as medication-assisted treatment and saying he wished to "correct the misconception that patients should achieve total abstinence. " Speaking at a meeting of the National Association of Governors in February, Mr. Azar said that addicts "need medication to regain the dignity that comes with controlling their lives."
But that approach is not accepted by all members of the Trump administration, and it is not clear where the White House will ultimately come to on the subject of medical intervention. A notable advocate of abstinence is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who invokes a language taken from the "war on drugs" long ago to frame substance abuse as a moral failure. Echoing literally the phrase that was made famous in the eighties by Nancy Reagan, then the first lady, Mr. Sessions said in October that "we have to re-establish, first, an opinion that you should say no. say no to drug use. "
That's probably reasonable advice for a teenager who has not yet smoked or sipped alcohol, said Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the administration. of Obama. But it's another story with someone who is already drugged. "If it is a person addicted to opiates and who is in a very bad situation," he simply says "it is not absolutely ridiculous," McLellan told Retro Report.
He also despised those who consider methadone maintenance and other regimens are nothing more than crutches that substitute one form of dependence for another. "In fact, they are a crutch," he said. But he added: "They make crutches for people who have trouble keeping up on their own." The treatments are not different from, say, insulin injections for diabetics, guiding people through troubled times when they are "very vulnerable to relapse"  "They are an insurance policy," said McLellan. More specifically, he said, "they reduce anxiety and, most importantly, prevent overdoses."
In that line, the vaccine developed by Dr. Matyas, which also aims to be effective against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, would theoretically block the heroin from reaching the brain and joining protein receptors there. Therefore, (a) it would eliminate, or at least appreciably minimize, the euphoria produced by the medication in relapsing users, and (b) eliminate the risk of respiratory depression that accompanies an overdose, causing the addict to stop breathing.
While it will take years for his discovery to be thoroughly tested and approved by federal authorities, Dr. Matyas has faith in the potential to help change this crisis. In that regard, he invoked a famous addict, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in 2014 after succumbing to what was believed to be a lethal mixture of heroin and other drugs.
The vaccine would not put an end to the craving of an addict for opioids, the immunologist said. As with Mr. Hoffman, relapses are expected, and the vaccine would have to be re-administered at regular intervals. But by preventing users from taking drugs, medication would greatly reduce the risk of overdose. That is the "true vision" of the vaccine, Dr. Matyas said: to avoid the pattern of relapse and overdose that killed Mr. Hoffman and ended a great stage and film talent.
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