NATIONAL (WTRF) — Researchers in Houston, have produced a vaccine which blocks fentanyl from entering rats’ brains that could be a game-changer in reducing overdoses in humans, states a report by the Smithsonian Magazine.

With more than 150 people dying daily from the synthetic opioid, and statistics recording more than half of all drug overdose fatalities during the Covid-19 pandemic, the urgency to find relief is outstanding.

The Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Anne Milgram, stated in April that Fentanyl was killing Americans at an unprecedented rate. She goes on to state that drug traffickers are increasing the addiction by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs, with victims that have no idea what they are ingesting, until it’s too late.

University of Houston researchers shared in a statement that they have discovered a new vaccine that blocks fentanyl from entering the brain. 

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Their findings were published in Pharmaceutics with details of their study. The 60 rats that were included in the research were immunized and could produce anti-fentanyl antibodies that stop the drug’s effects, allowing it to exit out of the body via the kidneys. The blocking of the usual “high” caused by fentanyl could hypothetically make it easier for people to quit using the drug or avoid a relapse.

The executive director of the Drug Education Council, Virginia Guy told WPMI, the current research holds great promise.

The researchers are confident that the vaccine did not cause adverse side effects or react with other opioids including morphine in their test subjects.

Lead author of the study, Colin Haile, a psychologist at the University of Houston states that a vaccinated person would still be able to take pain relievers.

One of the ingredients in the vaccine is called dmLT, which comes from E. coli. dmLT is an adjuvant, which boots the immune system’s response to vaccines. This important addition is key in inoculations against addiction.

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The vaccine is geared to people who are currently addicted and want to quit, but it also protects against accidental ingestion of fentanyl when mixed with other drugs, explains Haile.

The Smithsonian Magazine reported the Director of Community Affairs and overdose prevention at Greenhouse Treatment Center in Texas, Philip Van Guilder saying that more people are saying that they specifically use fentanyl and the large percentage of users is increasing.

Methadone and Buprenorphine are the two current treatments for opioid use. These activate brain receptors associated with opioids. Another medication called naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids. The success of these medications depend on the individual, their access to treatment and the particular drug they are addicted to. Naloxone is used to save the lives immediate overdosing, but is a short-term solution and does not help treat the addiction.

The researchers are looking for FDA approval for the vaccine and will begin clinical trials. Their time line of three to four years could see vaccines available to victims.

The next steps for the researchers are to get FDA approval for the vaccine and to begin clinical trials. The team hopes their vaccine could be sold within three or four years.