Friday, January 11, 2008

Should Children be Vaccinated against Addiction? points to an article in Time on the new "cocaine vaccine" and asks whether it should be given preemptively to children.

Basically, the "cocaine vaccine" works by stimulating the body to produce antibodies that bind to cocaine molecules, preventing them from binding to the receptors in the brain that, when activated, produce the "high" from the drug. As a result, the "high" is negated or greatly reduced, which removes the incentive to continue to use the drug.

While I see the potential for this treatment to help addicts overcome cocaine addiction, the talk of giving this preemptively to children worries me. Beyond the issues of informed consent mentioned, I have concerns about using any treatments that could affect brain receptors in children unless it is medically indicated. Psychoactive drugs affect us because our brains have receptors that respond to particular drug molecules; these receptors probably have some other function in normal life. Stimulating the body to produce antibodies that bind to drug molecules to inhibit them from binding to our receptors could have adverse impacts on the natural auto-stimulation and regulation from our bodies. In children whose brains are still developing (and will go into overdrive during puberty), we cannot safely anticipate what the long-term effects on neurotransmitters and brain activity could be.

Because the vaccine has been show to be effective on adults, and because there is usually sufficient time to respond to cocaine addiction, I do not feel that vaccinating children in this case is justified.

And because I still am bitter about the controversy over the HPV vaccine: aren't moralists worried that giving the cocaine vaccine to children will tell them it's okay to start doing drugs?

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