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New Prescriptions for Addiction Treatment

New prescriptions are making it easier to kick old drug addiction habits and stay clean.

The Cutting Edge: The Addiction Vaccine continued...

One way around the problem -- an "addiction vaccine" -- is a new way of helping to "cushion" the fall and keep relapses from overtaking treatment successes.

"The idea here is that if you've been vaccinated and you relapse, the effects of the cocaine are blunted, and that shifts the probabilities that you will relapse further, so you should be able to get your life back in order more quickly," says Margaret Haney, PhD, associate professor of clinical neuroscience at Columbia University and a researcher on the cocaine vaccine at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Haney says the vaccine works by blocking the effects of cocaine not in the brain, but in the blood, beginning almost as soon as the patient takes the first "hit."

"It's a brand new treatment approach to drug abuse: The vaccine binds to the cocaine itself before it has a chance to cross the blood-brain barrier, and this prevents, or at least dramatically decreases, it's pleasurable effects," Haney tells WebMD.

Though an addict determined to get high can overcome the protection of the vaccine, Haney says within two to three months after treatment starts, there are enough antibodies in the blood to prevent at least three times the normal dose of cocaine from getting to the brain. So even if a craving is triggered, using cocaine will have little or no effect.

"It's still in the very early stages, and it will mostly likely be the most helpful when used in conjunction with other drug treatments, but it is our hope that it will prevent serious relapses from occurring in those who are motivated to overcome their addiction," says Haney.

Other vaccines under development include one for nicotine addiction, which researchers say is the furthest along, as well as others for heroin and other opiates.

Surgery for Addiction

When it comes to even more dramatic cutting-edge treatments, some doctors are turning to what we have already learned from two totally unrelated problems: Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. One treatment proving effective in both these conditions is a surgical intervention known as "electrical deep brain stimulation," and some experts believe it may work in drug addiction as well.

"For people who are sufficiently affected by their [addiction], deep brain stimulation it might be totally appropriate -- as appropriate as it is for Parkinson's or epilepsy," says Michael Kaplitt, MD, director of stereotactal and functional neurosurgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

In this treatment, doctors implant a tiny electrode deep within the brain. Attached wires run under the skin to a small device located in the chest, not unlike a cardiac pacemaker. Using a hand-held unit similar to a remote control, patients can turn the electric current to their brain on and off, and in some instances, even regulate its strength.

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