ANCIENT Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks and many others knew the powers of opium poppies and employed them extensively. So, too, do modern doctors. Drugs derived from poppy juice, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone, known collectively as opioids, form the very foundation of pain management and are used in hospitals the world over.
Unfortunately, opioids are also highly addictive. Illicit consumption of them is reaching epidemic proportions—and not just among those who have wilfully chosen from the beginning to take such drugs recreationally. Many addicts were once prescribed an opioid legitimately, by a doctor, and then found that they could not stop. The upshot is a lot of premature deaths (see chart). Many researchers have therefore tried to find a way to deter those who have been given a brief taste of opioids from continuing to take them. Now one group, led by Kim Janda at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, reports in ACS Chemical Biology that it has developed an anti-opioid vaccine.