Once-a-day pill to beat alcoholism gains backing from health officials

The Independent recently had a news article discussing a once-a-day pill to help alcoholics quit drinking that has won the backing of health officials in England.

It reads:

Nalmefene, which is already used in Scotland, helps people cope with the craving for alcohol by reducing the “buzz” they get from drinking.

Nearly 600,000 people could benefit from the drug, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which said in draft guidance published today that nalmefene should be available as an option. Treating that number of people would cost about £600m a year.

Professor Carole Longson, of NICE, said: “Alcohol addiction is a serious issue for so many. Those who could be prescribed nalmefene have already taken the first big steps in their fight against their addiction by visiting their doctor and taking part in therapy programmes.”

She added: “When used alongside psychosocial interventions, nalmefene is clinically and cost effective for the NHS compared with psychosocial interventions alone.”

NICE said nalmefene “should only be prescribed in conjunction with continuous psychosocial support”.

A consultation period on the idea of offering nalmefene on the NHS is now open and the final guidance is expected in November. A separate decision will be taken by the authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland became the first European country to prescribe nalmefene in October last year after trials showed some success. Men who usually drank eight units a day and women who drank six a day cut those amounts by half while taking the drug over six months.

However, Dr Des Spence, a GP in Glasgow, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal in February criticising the decision to give nalmefene on the NHS in Scotland at a cost of £84 a month per patient and casting doubt on the significance of the trial findings.

“Surely these resources would be better spent improving alcohol counselling services?” he wrote. “The drugs in alcohol addiction have tiny benefits and are a distraction from the real challenges of limiting the availability and increasing the cost of alcohol. This bad medicine is all too familiar.”

This is a welcome development in that NICE are looking at this as an option but I would have to agree that, similar to using pharmaceuticals to manage heroin addiction as discussed in the last post, this is a quick, easy and inexpensive option compared to dealing with the real issues of addiction and alcoholism.  I would worry that these would be handed out without psychosocial support in place.  Plus the pharmaceutical industry would gain without the  alcohol industry having to engage with the Govt to look at pricing and availability issues, thus saving the Govt any pain either.  So the corporatocracy win again at the expense of health and the general public.

30 days to go

6 thoughts on “Once-a-day pill to beat alcoholism gains backing from health officials

  1. I agree with you on this. I hope the pill helps some people if it’s available and it works for what it’s supposed to do. But this approach seems like another example of treating something as a pharmaceutical (physical, individual, material) problem, which our societies tend to do, without acknowledging that the problem being addressed is also psychological, cultural, and social. The medication seems based on the assumption that addiction is based on cravings, when it’s all a bit more complicated than that. Thanks as always for your thought provoking and informative post! (On a more personal note, I hope your interview went well and you’ve recovered nicely from the anxiety of that.) xo

    1. Hi thirstystill You’re welcome 🙂 And yes the interview went well and I was successful. The anxiety became overshadowed by me going down with the lurgy that the kids had on Sunday so didn’t have much time to worry!!

  2. I concur that the overall picture needs to change dramatically. interesting that the study seemed to focus on reduction of consumption rather than complete elimination – as many of us have found trying for moderation only prolongs the agony…

    1. Hey Prim It’s so interesting isn’t it that with smoking the health outcome is to get people to stop completely but not so for drinking. Why would you want to continue to drink if it gave you no buzz but carried all the health risks of drinking? You may as well stop and drink alcohol free products because at least then you don’t continue to carry the health risk.

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