Lifewatch: cocaine vaccine

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Heather Setzler - bio|email

(WECT) - Many are calling the vaccine a breakthrough in the treatment for cocaine addiction, but this "cocaine vaccine" may still be a few years away from patients who really need it now.

Once a famous professional wrestler, at 6'8 and 310lb, Harold is often powerless against the pull of crack cocaine.

"It's like a form of Russian roulette, basically."

He has hypertension, diabetes, and a bad heart. He knows his addiction could kill him, but he still can't quit for very long.

"It's to the point now that I'm looking for a miracle."

He thinks that miracle may be a new vaccine, being tested to help treat cocaine addiction, a concept that sounded so promising, he tracked down one of the study authors Dr. Bridget Martell with the Yale School of Medicine.

"I think that this vaccine could potentially be an incredibly effective vehicle for helping people curb addiction to not just cocaine, but heroin perhaps, and even nicotine," said Dr. Martell.

It's supposed to work like a vaccine to fight disease, stimulating the body to develop antibodies. In this case, they bind to the cocaine and stop it from entering the brain.

Researchers at Yale University recently tested the vaccine and found 38 percent of recipients cut their cocaine use.

"I think that we can make that percent not 38% but 70 or 80%, if we have the right formulation of this vaccine," said Dr. Martell.

In the study, the vaccine only lasted two months, so booster shots might be needed.  And there are concerns that since users no longer feel the effect of the cocaine, some could overdose trying to get high.

"Because of that potential liability, large pharmaceutical companies are afraid of taking this and manufacturing this and making this potentially come to market."

Much more testing is needed.

"I'm praying that it works, because without it I don't think that I'm going to be around much longer," said Harold.

Doctors working on the vaccine say advocacy groups and Congress can be a big help in getting the vaccine to market.

The latest study on the vaccine shows that almost half the addicts were able to stay cocaine-free for six months.

©2009 WECT. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.