Heroin vaccine might have saved my son’s life

Doctor K.D. Janda at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA has developed a heroin vaccine that has proven effective in animal. He is seeking funding to take the drug along the path to clinical trials in humans.

A couple of nights ago, my wife and I attended a meeting of a group called the Compassionate Friends. These are people who one thing in common. They’ve lost a child. We lost our son, Patrick, in December of last year. Two and a half months that seem like a few days one minute or a year the next. The people at this meeting were kind and as the title of the organization states, compassionate. We heard stories from people who had lost their children under a variety of circumstances: cancer, car accident, suicide, addiction drug overdose. Our son fits into the latter category. Each story had its own attributes and impact on friends and family. Losing a son or daughter is about the worst thing that can happen to parents. People suffer loss in their own way. But, I noticed something unique about our group, the loss to heroin addiction group.

People who’ve lost their child (or a loved one) to a heroin overdose spend a great deal of time (every day) trying to help their loved one take control of their addiction and prevent the worst from happening. The stress pervades everything else you do. Initially, our time was spent simply trying to get our son into a rehabilitation program. Had there been a vaccine, he would have been inoculated and that would be the end of heroin for him. I’m not naive to think he might still struggle with opioids. But that would be more expensive to obtain and more difficult to prep and shoot.

We didn’t know anything about rehabs. I searched the Internet, made phone calls, can’t remember how many organizations I contacted. I can’t prove it, but I remember feeling at least one place was trying to scam us into an elaborate program even after I told the counselor we couldn’t afford it. I guess to some people it’s just a business business and must make a profit. Our insurance would pay for what we would discover to be the standard a twenty-eight-day program, so that’s what we got him into. He was put on a medication called buprenorphine also known as naloxone (Suboxone). The drug, a partial opioid agonist, acts similarly to heroin, and partially satiated his body’s desire (craving) for heroin. He only stayed at the rehab for two weeks. He was over eighteen and we couldn’t force him to stay. He found the twelve-step approach there unhelpful and chose not to participate. We were fortunate that he loved his studies at school and stayed at home for a semester where we could keep an eye on him, that is, until he transferred back to the University of Cincinnati.

While he was still home, he got into a new treatment program, a six month program, in which he took monthly injections of Vitrol, an extended release suspension of naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of heroin. While on this medication heroin has no effect on the individual. The addict can shoot heroin and nothing happens. Our son complied and received the injections along with counseling, but one day simply refused to receive his monthly injection. He’d decided he missed heroin and wanted a taste of it. I became furious with him, but he got what he wanted. Eventually, we were able to talk him into going back on Suboxone. The medication comes in a sub-lingual form that dissolves under the tongue, but Patrick figured out a way to liquefy it and shoot it.

These are just a few of the things we went through with our son. Haven’t even mentioned that most of this was not covered by insurance so we were paying cash. The Vivitrol injections were over a thousand dollars each month. From the day we discovered he was hooked on heroin until the day he died we were under constant stress over whether he’d begin shooting again, drop out of school and end up in the streets living on scant food and dope, kill himself accidentally, or commit suicide. He tried the latter one night when he went out into the city and tried to buy heroin and was ripped off for $150 twice. He became so enraged that he unbuckled his seat belt and drove his car into an embankment at over 100 mph. He miraculously survived. He told us he wanted to live and from the day of the accident on he began to recover. He stayed clean for over two years until December 12, 2015 when he was found dead in his dormitory room.

A heroin vaccine could have saved his life. He would have been immune to the drug.

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