Researchers at the University of Houston believe they’ve developed a vaccine targeting synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, that could end the cycle of addiction for millions of Americans.

The findings, which were published in the journal Pharmaceutics, have been described as a potential “game-changer” to save countless lives by reversing the effects of the powerful drug.

“Authorities were able to confiscate enough fentanyl to kill everyone in the United States, so it’s a very significant problem, and it’s not going to get better,” said Dr. Colin Haile, research associate professor at the University of Houston.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine and it’s flooding streets across the nation from drug traffickers smuggling the product across the border.

Haile explained that the vaccine is able to generate anti-fentanyl antibodies to prevent the drug from entering the brain, which would cause the user to not be able to feel the euphoric effects of the drug once it’s in their system.

“The anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and a fentanyl derivative and did not cross-react with other opioids, such as morphine. That means a vaccinated person would still be able to be treated for pain relief with other opioids,” said Haile. “If you do not allow fentanyl to enter the brain, you’d have zero effects.”

At this point, the vaccine does have limitations – it wouldn’t stop an accidental overdose.

Narcan, the counteractive nasal spray carried by first responders, would still be widely used to combat those immediate effects. But it would help drug users who struggle with opioid addiction break free from their daily struggles.

“Every day, you need to make the decision that you want to quit using your drugs, whereas, with a vaccine, you only have to make that decision once in a while,” said Therese Kosten, professor of psychology at the Univerity of Houston.

During lab studies, no adverse side effects from the vaccine were discovered.

Human trials are expected to begin soon, but we are still likely years away before it’s publicly available.