Scientists Developed a Treatment for Long-Term Cocaine Addiction

The new drug blocks cocaine's ability to get addicted rats high for up to 20 days.

A treatment for long-term cocaine addiction has been developed for the first time, thanks to the efforts of a pharmacy research team at the University of Kentucky.

Of all of the illicit drugs that cause addiction problems in the U.S., such as heroin and crystal meth, cocaine remains the only one without a long-term preventive treatment option approved by the F.D.A. Though the new research, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on the treatment of coke-addicted rats, it represents a big step toward addiction therapy for humans. The most recent White House survey of national drug use reported that there are at least 1.4 million cocaine users over the age of 12 in the U.S. alone.

The treatment is based on an enzyme called cocaine hydrolase, which breaks down cocaine metabolites before they can get users high. While it sounds like a pretty foolproof tool for treating addiction, the enzyme has one major downfall: It only survives in the body for about 8 hours.

But the researchers discovered that attaching the enzyme to another molecule — a naturally occurring antibody called immunoglobulin G — extended its lifespan to up to 107 hours in rats. The treatment didn’t just prevent rats from getting high — it also protected them from dying from overdoses. At the dose given, the treatment lasted for up to 20 days in rats.

It’ll be awhile before this study can be applied to human cocaine addicts — the researchers have to factor in our drug metabolism rates as well as the time it takes for a treatment to make it down the F.D.A. pipeline — but it’s the most promising treatment to date.

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