A radical scheme to vaccinate children against future drug addiction is being considered by ministers, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Under the plans, doctors would immunise children at risk of becoming smokers or drug users with an injection. The scheme could operate in a similar way to the current nationwide measles, mumps and rubella vaccination programme.
Childhood immunisation would provide adults with protection from the euphoria that is experienced by users, making drugs such as heroin and cocaine pointless to take. Such vaccinations are being developed by pharmaceutical companies and are due to hit the market within two years.
The Department of Trade and Industry has set up a special project to investigate ways of using new scientific breakthroughs to combat drug and nicotine addiction.
A national anti-drug immunisation scheme is one of the proposals being put forward by the Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs project, an expert committee of scientists appointed by the Government earlier this year.
Professor David Nutt, a leading government drugs adviser who sits on the committee, told the IoS that anti-drug vaccines for children are likely to be among the panel's recommendations when it reports next March.
Professor Nutt, head of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol and a senior member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said: "People could be vaccinated against drugs at birth as you are against measles. You could say cocaine is more dangerous than measles, for example. It is important that there is a debate on this issue. This is a huge topic - addiction and smoking are major causes of premature death."
According to the Government's own figures, the cost of drug addiction - through related crime and health problems - to the economy is pounds 12bn a year. There is a strong incentive for the Government to find new ways to halt spiralling addiction. Last week, the IoS revealed that cocaine use had trebled in Britain with increasing numbers of users switching to highly addictive crack cocaine. …