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New Anti-Booze Pill Hits Europe

Alcoholics on nalmefene can still drink—but many of them don't really want to.

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How viably can a drug keep us off the
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By McCarton Ackerman

03/06/12

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Nordic drugmaker H. Lundbeck reports that its anti-alcoholism treatment, nalmefene, hugely helps heavy drinkers to cut their alcohol consumption. The drug has been submitted to the European Medicine Agencies; if approved, it'll become the first new medicine sold to treat heavy drinking in over 15 years. Final-stage clinical trials showed that nalmefene helps curb drinking more than a placebo; Those who stayed the drug throughout the study period reported 63% fewer heavy drinking days and a 64% reduction in total consumption. Nalmefene works by blocking brain signals that make activities like drinking feel good. Patients taking the medication are physically able to continue drinking; it's just that they wish to do less of it, which may rile those who advocate abstinence. “This is a potential revolution,” says David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. “Some people, like Alcoholics Anonymous, will be completely against it. But others will welcome it as a way to control their drinking.” One potential drawback of nalmefene is a drop-out rate caused by symptoms like dizziness, insomnia and nausea—just 142 of 302 patients on the drug completed the study, compared with 205 of 296 patients on the placebo. According to the World Health Organization, Europeans drink 3.2 gallons of alcohol per person per year; that's double the global average and 40% boozier than people in the Americas.

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