HOUSTON (KIAH) — On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott celebrated the achievement of researchers at the University of Houston (UH) who have developed a fentanyl vaccine with the potential to save millions of innocent lives from fentanyl poisonings and addiction.

“Quite literally, fentanyl is killing Texas,” said Gov. Abbot following a tour of the UH fentanyl vaccine lab. The governor along with lab technicians held a press conference with UH President Renu Khator, UH System Board of Regents Chairman Tilman Fertitta, and UH Associate Professor Dr. Colin Haile.

During the interviews, Gov. Abbot cited data from the Texas Department of State Health Services that reports 883 people died from a fentanyl-related overdose in 2020. That number jumped 89% in 2021 to 1,672 deaths.

Even in small doses, fentanyl exposure can cause a life-threatening overdose. But now, UH vaccine researchers say they have developed a game changer — a vaccine that develops antibodies against fentanyl.

This is how it works. Once the vaccine-induced antibodies bind to fentanyl, they will prevent the drug from getting into the brain where it may trigger euphoric centers or trigger respiratory depression and opioid overdose death.

“Present treatments are not adequate so, we need a different strategy, a different way of addressing this this problem and that different way includes our vaccine,” said Dr. Colin Haile, Research Associate Professor, UH Animal Behavior Core Facility, University of Houston.

Governor Abbott added that in Harris County, at least one person a day loses their life to a fentanyl-related overdose and is the number one killer in America for people ages 18 to 45.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls fentanyl the deadliest drug threat facing our nation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.