The recent death of Amy Winehouse highlights again just how prevalent the problem of addiction is. Amy was aruably one of the greatest new talents to hit the music scene in recent years but sadly her addiction to drugs and alcohol were as well known as her talent as a singer-songwriter.
Science? Education? Incarceration? Legalization? Drugs that fight drugs? Who will win?
With drug overdose deaths on the increase, it is worth noting that this is the second leading cause of fatalities after car crashes in the US. Although heroin overdose deaths have remained static (around 2,000 deaths a year), deaths from cocaine overdose are now over 5,000 a year (Sources: US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Associated Press). Combine these with the shocking statistics that there are over 14,000 people who die from alcoholic liver disease each year and that the number of alcohol-induced deaths (excluding accidents and homicides) has reached over 23,000 each year (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
We are all faced with a dilemma. Drug addiction is a massive problem not just to individual health but also to society as a whole. Should scientists be working with relevant authorities to provide a solution? Should scientists be looking for a vaccine for drug and alcohol addiction or can we simply educate kids about the dangers without tempting them to experiment?
The Bioethicist, Arthur Caplan, at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, has suggested that addicts should be persuaded to take more drugs but only those, like Naltrexone, that will make the effects of illegal drugs negligible.
However, Kim Janda at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his team have been experimenting with a vaccine that contains a molecule that activates the immune system. The vaccine helps the immune system to recognize heroin molecules and produce antibodies that try to fight them off as though they were invasive organisms. The idea behind the vaccine is that if the antibodies can fight off the heroin molecules before they reach the brain then the effects of the drug are massively reduced. Currently the experimental vaccines have not been tested on humans and although vaccines for cocaine and nicotine have been used in clinical trials, the results have not been as positive as the scientists would have liked.
Can a vaccine be created that prevents addicts from experiencing the 'high' they are so desperate for or will addicts always be one step ahead and administering ever-increasing doses to get high?
What is it that makes one person so susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction and makes another impervious?
We’ve posed an awful lot of questions in this post. We'd like to know your thoughts about how our young people should be persuaded to lead lives free from addiction. Can we set a good example through education or are we now forced to look to the scientists for an answer?
Image: Flickr - fyunkie