Drug helps problem drinkers slash intake by 60%

A NEW drug which could help problem drinkers reduce the amount of alcohol they consume will become available today to UK patients.

New drug: Cut alcohol use by two-thirds in trials. Picture: TSPL
New drug: Cut alcohol use by two-thirds in trials. Picture: TSPL

If dependent drinkers take the drug nalmefene and undergo simultaneous counselling, they can cut their consumption levels by 61 per cent, manufacturers said.

The pill, also known as “selincro”, has been licensed for use by health officials and will be available for doctors to prescribe to their patients from today.

Nalmefene was also approved for use in Norway, Finland, Poland and the Baltic countries last month.

The drug, which is to be taken once a day, has been licensed for “the reduction of alcohol consumption in adult patients with alcohol dependence without physical withdrawal symptoms and who do not require immediate detoxification”.

While current drugs help patients to become teetotal, nalmefene helps people with drinking problems to cut back on the amount they drink.

The drug works by modulating the reward mechanism in the brain, blocking the craving and “reward” from alcohol and reducing the desire to drink.

Nalmefene is the first and only medicine approved for the reduction of alcohol consumption in patients with alcohol ­dependence.

Ole Chrintz, senior vice- president of International Markets and Europe of production company Lundbeck, said: “This is an area with significant unmet medical needs, and we are excited about introducing an innovative treatment concept that provides a new and different option for patients who may otherwise not seek treatment.”

A clinical trial into the drug helped patients cut the amount they consumed from 12.75 units a day to five units a day – a 61 per cent reduction. Patients who underwent counselling as well as taking the drug reduced their “heavy drinking days” from 23 days a month to nine days a month after undergoing the treatment over a six month ­period.

“The people who we saw in the study were not stereotypical alcoholics – most of them had families and jobs,” said drug investigator Dr David Collier, of Barts and the London School of Medicine.

“For the majority, only they and those closest to them would have known that they had a problem with drinking.

“The results of the studies suggest that nalmefene, in combination with counselling, is a potentially helpful new option for the many people like them in the UK who need some assistance in cutting down their drinking.”

The first UK-wide trial for nalmefene was in Edinburgh during 2002, when 20 patients participated in the trial run by Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust over six months.

The NHS cost for nalmefene is £42.42 for a supply of 14 tablets, lasting patients a fortnight.

In 2010-11 the rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in Scotland was 695 per 100,000 population – a 20.6 per cent ­increase since 1997-98, when the rate was 576 per 100,000 population.

Margaret Watt, chair of Scotland Patients Association, welcomed the drug’s introduction.

“If it cuts down the amount of people who are taking too much alcohol it’s excellent, especially with the unit price increase as well,” she said.

“If it helps people who ­genuinely want to stop taking alcohol, it’s definitely not before time.

“Not everybody will want help, but for those that do, it’s a fantastic option. As it is, they have no options at the moment that we’re aware of. Let’s see how it works and keep an eye on it.”

The impact of excessive alcohol consumption in Scotland is estimated to cost taxpayers £3.56 billion each year, or £900 for every adult in the country, and 25 people die per week as a direct result of their drinking.