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Drug addiction is a severe medical condition that’s complicated to treat and can only really be recovered from rather than “cured.” And one of the most widely abused addictive substances in the world is cocaine (and crack).
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, “The estimated number of [cocaine] users worldwide has grown steadily over the past 15 years, driven in part by rising population levels but also by a gradual long-term increase in prevalence, while markets including Western and Central Europe and Australia have shown a tendency for use patterns to shift towards more intensive consumption.” Repeated cocaine use in higher doses can lead to extreme health consequences, including panic attacks, paranoia and even psychosis. It can also cause physical effects like reduced blood flow, heart problems and increased chances of stroke.
Frederico Garcia, a psychiatrist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil says: "There's no specific registered treatment for cocaine and crack addiction. We currently use a combination of psychological counseling, social assistance and rehabilitation, when necessary.”
But Garcia and his colleagues are working on developing a vaccine that treats cocaine addiction called Calixcoca.
Calixcoca works by prompting patients’ immune systems to create antibodies, which then stick to cocaine in the bloodstream. The cocaine particles are then too big to pass into the brain. If a vaccinated person uses cocaine, they wouldn’t end up feeling any of the addictive effects. So, they wouldn’t really have a reason to keep taking it, as it’s no longer effective at getting them high in the first place. Testing suggests that the drug might also reduce the risk of overdosing, as the bigger particles aren’t able to act on the heart or arteries, either.
If it gets regulatory approval, Calixcoca would become the first vaccine used to fight cocaine addiction. It would be meant to be taken by former addicts who are already off cocaine and want to stay that way.