Addiction

31 Mar 2000

Yesterday, I watched a show about drug addiction. They featured heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol.

They talked about how the drugs worked, the studies into how addiction and cravings work, the methods of breaking addiction, lots of testimonials, and they followed people through supervised withdrawal.

They also talked about how genetic predilection has been shown to be significant for some kinds of addiction, and how knowing whether an addict does have some genetically caused physical predilection, and knowing what the genes caused, let people develop drugs that help people break addictions by countering the affects of the predilection. There's even an implant that, for a month, negates the effects of heroin. Shoot up all you want, it has no effect. Getting through that first month is easier when cheating doesn't work.

That was all riveting, but the most interesting bit was how a couple research groups are working on a vaccine that would make people immune to cocaine. Both groups they showed claimed their vaccine worked and was just going through final human trials and could be on the market in just a few years. A few injections, and your body will produce antibodies that latch onto cocaine and prevent it from escaping from the bloodstream into the fun parts of the brain. The researchers were optimistic about doing something similar for other drugs, but I don't think they're as far along with anything else as with cocaine.

By itself, that's not as neato-keen as how the drugs actually mess with neurotransmitters. The nifty part is thinking about who might use such a vaccine and why. To the their additional credit, they did discuss this in the show. The most obvious use is to forcibly vaccinate addicts, ejecting them from the grips of the addiction. Of course they could get their high some other way, but it would certainly get them off a specific drug. Some addicts might use it to help them quit voluntarily. Former addicts might use it to remove temptation.

But what about people who have never tried the drug? Would you willingly prevent yourself from ever trying cocaine? What about nicotine? What about marijuana? I'd be more worried about it if I thought someone might addict me to something without my consent, making me smoke crack at gun point or something similarly absurd, but I don't hear about that happening.

Would you vaccinate your children? Don't you trust them? Would you take all abusable drugs from them or only some? What about morphine? It can be abused, is addictive, and has useful properties. What if they need it someday? What if they just want to try it someday when they're adults? I would love to have a way to protect myself from addiction without preventing the other effects of a drug, but I imagine that's much harder to arrange.

Would you approve forced vaccination for all people for all illegal drugs? Even if you wouldn't, would a majority of voters or lobbyists?

The researchers interviewed on the show said that there needed to be lots of public debate. It's nice to know they understand the dangers of drug prevention. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.