New drug to help problem drinkers cut back on booze

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

If dependent drinkers take nalmefene and undergo counselling they can cut their consumption by 61 per cent, its manufacturer 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.

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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, nal-mefene helps people with drinking problems to cut back on the amount they drink. It works by modulating the reward mechanism in the brain.

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.

And 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 for six months, researchers said.

“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 NHS cost for nalmefene is £42.42 for a supply of 14 tablets.

Over 2009 and 2010, around one million hospital admissions were due to an alcohol-related condition or injury.

But recent figures show the number of people being admitted to hospital with liver problems as a result of alcoholism is rising dramatically. There were 14,886 admissions in hospitals in England in 2009/10, 15,858 in 2010-11 and 16,865 during 2011-12.

Health experts recommend that men have no more than three to four units and women two to three units a day. A unit of alcohol is roughly half a pint of normal- strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure of spirits.