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NICE approves drug to help cut alcohol use

The first drug to help dependent drinkers cut down on their alcohol use has been approved by NICE.

Nalmefene has been approved for treating patients with alcohol dependence without physical withdrawal symptoms and who do not need immediate detoxification.

The manufacturer, Lundbeck, estimate that around 600,000 drinkers in England could be eligible for treatment with the drug – an opioid receptor antagonist – which dampens the ‘buzz’ alcohol-dependent people get from drinking, helping them cut down their alcohol intake.

Patients suitable for treatment with the drug regularly drink more than the World Health Organisation-defined ‘high drinking risk’ levels of seven-and-a-half units of alcohol per day for men, and five units per day for women.

And NICE draft guidance advises that nalmefene should only be started on patients who continue to have this high drinking risk level two weeks after their initial assessment.

The approval comes after trials have shown that the drug, when used in conjunction with counselling, has cut alcohol consumption by an average of 61 per cent after six months, according to its manufacturers.

The drug was approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium in October last year when NICE said it was looking at whether to introduce it here.

The NHS cost for nalmefene is £42.42 for 14 tablets, with the maximum daily dose one tablet. Patients take a tablet when they feel they are at risk of drinking, preferably an hour or two before they anticipate they might drink alcohol.

NICE is expected to publish its final guidance for nalmefene in November.

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