Step Closer to Heroin Vaccine?

By Will Godfrey 07/28/11

California scientists claim they're close to a heroin vaccine breakthrough, but bungling Canadian border guards can't even recognize the drug

Oh Canada! Photo via

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California have shown it's possible to vaccinate lab rats against the painkilling effects of heroin and prevent them becoming addicted, reports the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Smack is a tough nut to crack in this respect; as soon as it enters the body it produces two additional compounds—6-acetylmorphine and morphine—meaning any vaccine must hit three chemical targets. The next task is to see if the vaccine prevents relapse in previously addicted but now detoxed rats. But presiding chemist Kim D. Janda is pessimistic about winning financial backing for the unpatented discovery: "There's no market for this stuff. Most cocaine and heroin addicts aren’t CEOs and insurance companies don’t cover them. But there’s clearly a need for this."

In marked contrast to such worthy efforts, border guards in Canada seem incapable of even identifying heroin. Minnesota grandmother Janet Goodin, 66, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday of her nasty shock when she tried to visit Manitoba to see her daughters and play bingo. Guards found a canning jar containing a dark liquid in her minivan and decided on the basis of their initial test that it was heroin. Goodin was handcuffed, strip-searched and charged with possession for trafficking and importing a controlled substance. She was held in Winnipeg Remand Center in "filthy" conditions for 12 long days—until further tests confirmed that the "heroin" was actually motor oil. "The inmates were all very good to me. I wasn't afraid of them at all," said Goodin, who is threatening to sue the red-faced Canadian authorities.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.

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