NHS launches pill to cut alcohol cravings

A pill that promises to reduce the desire to drink alcohol is now available on prescription from the NHS in England.


Nalmefene, a pill to stop alcohol cravings, was launched on the NHS today.

Nalmefene, a once-a-day pill that reduces the “buzz” of drinking to help control alcohol cravings, won the approval of health officials in England in July. Today, the £3 pill was officially launched with patients now able to request the drug from the NHS alongside counselling services to cut down their drinking.

Anyone who regularly drinks high amounts of alcohol, defined by the World Health Organisation as 7.5 units a day for men and 5 units a day for women, roughly at least half a bottle of wine or three pints a night, will be eligible for the drug.

The drug, also known as Selincro, can be take once a day and is designed to be taken whenever the patients feels the desire to have a drink.

Importantly, the drug is designed for those who are concerned about their drinking and want to cut down, not those with a severe alcohol problem.

Fictional examples provided by the drug’s manufacturer of who the drug is aimed at include Sue, 39, 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”.

Lyndsey Dudley, a spokeswoman for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), said the drug would be suitable for people who “probably don’t even recognise themselves as an alcoholic”, with 35,000 people expected to benefit in the first year.

Professor Carole Longson, Nice’s health technology evaluation centre director, added: “Many people have a difficult relationship with alcohol even though they have a very stable lifestyle, maintain jobs and a social life and would not automatically assume they have a problem. But regularly drinking over the recommended daily amount of alcohol can seriously damage your health. Those who could be prescribed nalmefene have already taken the first big steps by visiting their doctor, engaging with support services and taking part in therapy programmes. We are pleased to be able to recommend the use of namelfene to support people further in their efforts to fight alcohol dependence.”

The drug is already in use in Scotland which became the first European country to prescribe it in October last year, while a separate consultation on whether it will be made available in Wales and Northern Ireland is yet to take place.

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