The Cocaine Vaccine


The controversial new cocaine vaccine (TA-CD) has the potential to be an extremely effective treatment tool for recovering addicts, but it also presents opportunities for non-therapeutic uses, such as preventing cocaine use in the first place. It is foreseeable that the cocaine vaccine could become a condition of parole or probation, or receiving welfare payments, or for employment in certain occupations. Universal vaccination is also a possibility but less likely for political reasons. This article investigates each of these areas of potential use. Any setting where mandatory drug testing is currently in place could become a venue for the vaccination.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler have recently proposed a new socioeconomic model for policy makers to use in making decisions that affect the choices of others: “libertarian paternalism.” Drug laws and vaccine policies are both areas that present thorny issues of paternalism, respecting personal liberty, and public safety; the cocaine vaccine, therefore, provides an appropriately complex test case for the new model. When “libertarian paternalism” is applied, however, it becomes clear that the latent biases of policy makers present unresolved problems for the model. The Sunstein/Thaler proposal would be more powerful if it were refined to account for these difficult situations, which are the very settings where a new model is most needed.


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Date of this Version

April 2004