Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Source: Cape Times (South Africa)
Copyright: 2004 Cape Times
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Authors: Sophie Goodchild and Steve Bloomfield


London: A radical scheme to vaccinate children against future drug 
addiction is being considered by ministers, The Independent on Sunday reveals.

Under the plans, doctors would immunise children at risk of becoming 
smokers or drug users with an injection. The scheme could work similarly to 
the current nationwide measles, mumps and rubella vaccination programme.

Childhood immunisation would protect adults from the euphoria experienced 
by users, making drugs such as heroin and cocaine pointless to take. Such 
vaccinations are being developed by pharmaceutical companies and are due to 
hit the market within two years.

The Department of Trade and Industry has set up a special project to 
investigate ways of using science to combat drug and nicotine addiction.

A national anti-drug immunisation scheme is one of the proposals by the 
Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs project, an expert committee of 
scientists appointed by the government earlier this year.

Professor David Nutt, a leading government drugs adviser who sits on the 
committee, said anti-drug vaccines for children are likely to be among the 
panel's recommendations when it reports next March.

Professor Nutt, head of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol and 
a senior member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said: 
"People could be vaccinated against drugs at birth as you are against 
measles. You could say cocaine is more dangerous than measles, for example. 
It is important that there is a debate on this issue. This is a huge topic 
- - addiction and smoking are major causes of premature death."

According to the government's own figures, the annual cost of drug 
addiction, to the economy, through related crime and health problems, is 
UKP 12 billion.

There is a strong incentive for the government to find new ways to halt 
spiralling addiction. Last week, the Independent on Sunday revealed that 
cocaine use had trebled in Britain with increasing numbers of users 
switching to crack cocaine.

Scientists are already conducting trials for drugs that can be used by 
doctors to vaccinate against cocaine, heroin and nicotine addiction.

Xenova, the British biotechnology firm, has carried out trials on an 
anti-cocaine vaccine which showed that 58% of patients remained 
cocaine-free after three months.

And the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California has developed a 
super-virus, harmless to humans, which produces proteins that can block or 
reduce the effects of cocaine.

The Scripps team tested the virus on rats by injecting it into their noses 
twice a day for three days. On the fourth day, the rats were given a shot 
of cocaine. It was found that the cocaine had more effect on the rats not 
injected with the virus than those that were.

Scientists hope the virus will help stop the cravings for cocaine by 
blocking the pleasure they normally associate with cocaine.

The medication is expected to be available within in the next two years in 
the form of a nasal spray.
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