Bioethics Blogs

The freedom to become an addict: The ethical implications of addiction vaccines

by Tabitha Moses 
Tabitha Moses, M.S., is Administrative and Research Coordinator at Lehman College, CUNY, as well as a Research Affiliate at the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. Tabitha earned her BA in Cognitive Science and Philosophy and MS in Biotechnology from The Johns Hopkins University. She has conducted research in the areas of addiction, mental illness, and emerging neurotechnologies. She hopes to continue her education through a joint MD/PhD in Neuroscience while maintaining a focus on neuroethics.
The introduction of “addiction vaccines” has brought with it a belief that we have the potential to cure addicts before they have ever even tried a drug. Proponents of addiction vaccines hold that they will:
  1. prevent children from becoming addicted to drugs in the future, 
  2. allow addicts to easily and safely stop using drugs, and 
  3. potentially lower the social and economic costs of addiction for society at large.
However, it is critical to be aware of the limitations and risks – both ethical and physical – of introducing these vaccines into mainstream medical care.

A child receives a vaccine in the 1930s
Before delving deeper into this discussion, we must understand that the term addiction vaccine is a misnomer. The vaccine itself is against a specific drug or substance, not against addiction in general. Currently these vaccines have been produced for nicotine, cocaine, and heroin. (See a previous blog post on cocaine vaccines here). While the different types of addiction vaccines have varying mechanisms, the end result is that an individual who has received the vaccine against a specific substance – cocaine, for instance – will no longer feel any of the effects of the substance that are typically associated with the high.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.