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Does Nalmefene Approval Bring False Promise to U.K.?

After several years conducting numerous clinical trials, the United Kingdom is ready to offer citizens in need a pill to help reduce their alcohol consumption. It has been all but anointed as as a “miracle pill,” but those making that assumption should take another look.

United Kingdom Makes Alcohol Pill a Public Commodity

Citizens of the United Kingdom who drink half a bottle of wine or three pints of beer each night will now have access to a pill to help keep their cravings at bay. In early October, news broke that The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) would finally recommend the use of a drug called Nalmefene after clinical trials showed it cut drinking by 61% over six months. It is taken orally once a day when people feel the urge to drink, and works by blocking the part of the brain that gives drinkers pleasure from alcohol, thus stopping them from wanting more than one drink.

Under the new plan, nearly 600,000 people in England will be eligible to receive the pill, which costs a mere £3 (just under $5) per tablet. General physicians would ask patients about their alcohol consumption upon visitation, even if the appointment was to address an unrelated health problem. Those who report consumption rates indicative of alcohol dependence would be prescribed Nalmefene (also known by the brand name Selincro). The drug has been prescribed to patients in Scotland since last year, and will be rolled out in England pending a final decision in November.

Far From a “Miracle Pill”

Initial buzz surrounding the U.K.’s endorsement of Nalmefene quickly billed it as “life-saving” and a “miracle pill,”  but medical professionals came out soon after to quell those expectations. They reaffirmed that while Nalmefene may aid in the effort to curb alcohol dependency, no pill can adequately replace the impact of behavioral treatment.

“People must not see this as a miracle cure,” said Andrew Langford, CEO of the British Liver Trust. “I am pleased that this is another treatment that is available but very importantly this new treatment must go alongside good counseling and good psychological support.”

In fact, the very same clinical trials that led to the drug’s recommendation suggest as much themselves – the 61% reduction in drinking occurred “when used with counseling.”

Treating The Symptoms Rather Than The Sickness

Another issue with Nalmefene is that there has been a high number of relapses – one of the main reasons is has yet to gain FDA approval here in the United States. For the most part, Nalmefene is not intended to lead to abstinence. It is simply meant to help people who drink too much be able to drink a little less. Unfortunately, there have been cases where people eventually return to unhealthy levels of drinking once they stop taking the medication.

That kind of side effect is unfortunate but unsurprising. Nalmefene has proven effective in manipulating the brain’s desire to consume more alcohol when it is taken, but it does not address the behavioral issues that led to the alcohol dependence in the first place. It helps people struggling with alcoholism cope with the symptoms rather than address the sickness, similar to taking cough syrup when you have a cold. The medicine soothes the cough while it’s in your system, but it doesn’t fight off the disease that’s causing it.

Finding The True Solution

Nalmefene may very well prove to be a useful addition to the addiction treatment arsenal, but it is not a stand-alone miracle pill. In order to truly deal with a disease as detrimental as alcoholism, those suffering need to identify the physiological, psychological and behavioral triggers that have fostered its existence, and be supported on their journey to understanding them. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse or know someone who is, don’t wait any longer to get the help you deserve. Call The Watershed today at 1-800-861-1768.

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