Congressman Offers a Prize for the Successful Development of a Vaccine To Treat Addiction

( – Drug and alcohol dependence has become a devastating epidemic in the United States, directly affecting the lives of an estimated 27 million Americans. The problem costs taxpayers and institutions roughly $442 billion each year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while deaths from overdoses remain steadily on the rise. An Arizona congressman hopes to end the problem by offering companies incentives to develop a vaccine to treat several types of addiction.

Growing Epidemic

Binge drinking and illegal drug use have heavy impacts on society, but current approaches to fighting them aren’t always effective. The outcomes for opioid abusers can be particularly poor, with only about one-quarter of users receiving specialized treatment. The HHS likens the problem to a new form of chronic illness ravaging the country, one that the medical community has had a hard time tackling.

The National Institutes of Health works alongside the National Institute on Drug Use to fund research on substance abuse and find new ways to treat the problem. Their efforts have focused on medications, but they’ve also looked at behavioral and digital approaches.

Researchers note that drug and/or alcohol abuse affects numerous types of people, including minors, individuals trapped in the criminal justice system, and those struggling with mental health problems, meaning that current treatment approaches must often be individualized. They’ve also failed to make a dent in the country’s epidemic.

Hope in a Vaccine?

Arizona Rep. David Schweikert (R) believes the solution might come in the form of a vaccine. He shared a press release on April 8 stating that he recently introduced a bill to the House of Representatives that would prioritize funding for the research. The lawmaker cites a vaccine discovery in Brazil that reportedly blocks the pathways in the brain related to cocaine addiction as his inspiration for the proposal.

Schweikert wants to see similar research taking place in the United States, one that tackles not only cocaine but also opioids, methamphetamines, and alcohol. HR 7827, or the Substance Therapy Designation Act, suggests fast-tracking all funding efforts that strive to “prevent, treat, or mitigate” addiction to deadly substances. The lawmaker also wants to create an “X-Prize,” a $1,000,000,000 incentive the secretary of Health and Human Services would award to a single vaccine developer.

This new approach to fighting drug and alcohol dependence might sound positive to many people, but the country remains divided on vaccines as a whole. Some Americans might not feel comfortable with the idea of inoculating themselves against addiction, and Schweikert might have a hard time convincing many of his conservative peers to back a bill that pushes any form of vaccine.

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