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Drug that reduces the urge to drink alcohol to be available from HSE

The drug is aimed at people who drink the equivalent of half a bottle of wine or three pints every day.

Image: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

A DRUG WHICH helps reduce the urge for people to drink alcohol will be available from the HSE from January.

The pill is aimed at women who drink the equivalent of three pints of beer or half a bottle of wine a day, and men who drink the equivalent of four and a half pints a day or most of a bottle of wine. It is likely to be prescribed along with counselling support.

The drug is not aimed at anyone who has a severe alcohol problem who needs to stop drinking immediately and who suffers from withdrawal symptoms.

Instead, in a fictional example of the kind of person who might take it, the drug manufacturers identify a 39-year-old woman who “looks forward to a glass of wine after work when the kids go to bed but always finishes the bottle while cooking and eating with her husband, and opens a second bottle a few days each week”.

Nalmefene, which is marketed as Selincro, is taken as needed when the patient feels that they may be about to drink alcohol, with the drug company recommending that it is taken 1 to 2 hours beforehand if possible. Only one tablet should be taken per day.

It works by attaching to certain opioid receptors in the brain which play a role in addiction, and modifying their activity.

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK, which approved the use of the drug last month,  said the drug would be suitable for people who “probably don’t even recognise themselves as an alcoholic”.

Lyndsey Dudley told The Daily Telegraph:

It is much like a patch that you might wear to give up smoking to support you to cut down on your alcohol intake. Some days you might feel stronger than others.

Selincro was given the green light by the EU in February of this year.

Professor Joe Barry of Trinity College Dublin, who is an expert in public health medicine,  said he was sceptical about how the tablet works.

“This drug has been very heavily marketed and I’m always a bit suspicious of drugs like that when it comes to solving a problem,” he told TheJournal.ie. 

Quick fixes don’t work. In terms of solving a problem, there are other things that are more effective, such as reducing the availability of alcohol, increasing the price, and providing health screening for people who are heavy drinkers.

Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke, who forced a debate in the Seanad on the need for the drug to be made available in Ireland,  said the drug would make sense from a health economics point of view.

“Dealing with the consequences of alcohol consumption can be very costly for our health system,” he said.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the HSE said:

“The HSE can confirm that it has approved Selincro Nalmefene for the GMS and Drug Payments Scheme.

“The HSE is currently in consultation with the drug company in relation to the reimbursement costs and cannot comment further while this process is underway”.

The World Health Organisation defines drinking a high amount of alcohol as consuming more than 60g (7.5 units) per day for men and more than 40g (5 units) for women. A bottle of wine contains approximately 70g of alcohol and a bottle of beer contains approximately 13g.

Read: Methadone, heroin, alcohol – surge in mixed-drug deaths since 2004 > 

Read: What drugs are in your life? Global Drugs Survey 2015 wants to know > 

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