Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., say the vaccine produces antibodies -- a kind of immune molecule -- that stop not only heroin but also other psychoactive compounds metabolized from heroin from reaching the brain to produce euphoric effects.
"The hope is that such a protective vaccine will be an effective therapeutic option for those trying to break their addiction to heroin," researcher Kim J. Danda said in a Scripps release Wednesday.
Injection drug abuse costs the United States an estimated $22 billion due to loss of productivity, criminal activity, medical care and social welfare, the researchers said.
Animal studies were extremely encouraging, they said.
"We saw a very robust and specific response from this heroin vaccine," said study co-author George F. Koob. "I think a humanized version could be of real help to those who need and want it."