Acamprosate (calcium-acetyl homotaurinate) is a new compound used in the treatment of alcohol abuse. Because of the putative link between alcoholism and the endogenous opioid systems in both humans and laboratory animals, we tested in rats the effects of acamprosate on behavioral and neurochemical effects of opioid drugs related to their abuse potential. These included sensitization to the behavioral effects of morphine, morphine-induced dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus accumbens (NAS), intravenous (i.v.) heroin self-administration and relapse to heroin seeking in drug-free rats. In experiment 1, rats were injected daily with either morphine (10 mg/kg, s.c.) or saline for 14 days. Three days later in a test for the expression of sensitization, an injection of morphine (10 mg/kg) resulted in increased locomotor activity and enhanced DA release in the NAS in rats previously exposed to morphine. Acamprosate (two injections of 200 mg/kg, 12 h apart; i.p.) suppressed the expression of the sensitized responses, but did not alter the effects of morphine in drug-naive control rats. In experiment 2, it was found that acamprosate (two injections of 50-200 mg/ kg; i.p.) had no consistent effects on i.v. heroin self-administration (50 100 microg/kg per infusion) and, in experiment 3, that acamprosate (100-200 mg/ kg, i.p.) did not alter reinstatement of drug seeking induced by priming injections of heroin (0.25 mg/kg, s.c.) or a footshock stressor (15 min; 0.5 mA) after a 5- to 8-day period of extinction. Thus, although acamprosate attenuated the expression of sensitized locomotor activity and DA release in the NAS, it did not have any consistent effect on either the intake of heroin during the maintenance phase or the relapse to heroin seeking in a drug-free state. Thus, to the extent that the self-administration and the reinstatement procedures provide valid preclinical models for drug use and relapse in humans, our data suggest that acamprosate may not be effective in altering drug-taking behavior in heroin users.