Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A vaccine that could prevent users from getting high on opioids is in trial stages, researchers report.
A research team at Virginia Commonwealth University is testing an immunotherapy, developed by Scripps Research Institute, designed to build up antibodies to block heroin or fentanyl from reaching the brain.
The methodology behind the testing is detailed in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences. Findings are being prepared for peer review.
"Anti-opioid vaccines represent one promising research area for opioid use disorder, including relapse and overdose because they are mechanistically different from current FDA-approved therapeutics such as naloxone, methadone and naltrexone, which target opioid receptors," Matthew Banks, an associate professor at the VCU School of Medicine, said in a news release.
Opioid vaccines are designed to trigger the immune system to produce antibodies to prevent drug molecules from crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Because opioid molecules don't cause an immune response, the researchers attached them to the tetanus vaccine in order to prompt a response -- and added a chemical adjuvant to boost the body's response.
The antibodies produced as a result of the vaccine prevent opioid molecules from reaching the brain, preventing a user from getting high.
"If a person injects heroin or fentanyl after they have been vaccinated, those antibodies are there to capture the drugs in the bloodstream, which should prevent people from getting high," Banks said.
More than 115 die each day from opioid abuse, an epidemic that brings on a $78.5 billion a year in associated costs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
This story has been update to clarify that researchers' work is still ongoing and results have not yet been published.