Drinkers To Be Offered Pill To Reduce Alcohol Consumption

03/10/2014 09:45 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 09:59 BST

If you're one of the thousands of people who drink half a bottle of wine in an evening, you could be eligible to receive a new pill that helps reduce alcohol consumption.

The life-saving pill, nalmefene, will help keep cravings at bay for mild alcoholics. Nearly 600,000 people who drink two glasses of wine or three pints in one night are to be offered the tablet.

Experts claim the drug, which costs £3 a tablet, could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,074 alcohol-related diseases and injuries.

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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended the drug's use after trials showed it cut drinking by 61% over six months when used with counselling.

Under new plans, GPs would ask patients about their alcohol intake even when they visit them for unrelated health issues.

"Alcohol dependence is a serious issue for many people," said Professor Carole Longson, for Nice health technology evaluation centre.

"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 nalmefene to support people further in their efforts to fight alcohol dependence.

"When used alongside psychosocial support, nalmefene is clinically and cost effective for the NHS compared with psychosocial support alone."

A final decision to roll out the drug on the NHS in England at a cost of £288 million per year will be taken in November.

It has been provided to patients in Scotland since October last year.

The pill, also known as Selincro, is administered orally once a day and is taken when people feel the urge drink.

It works by blocking the part of the brain which gives drinkers pleasure from alcohol, stopping them from wanting more than one drink.

Men would qualify to receive the treatment if they consume 7.5 units of alcohol per day - around three to four pints of standard strength lager.

It would be offered to women who consume five units a day, which amounts to around half a bottle of wine.

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Nalmefene is the only licensed medicine which helps people reduce their drinking rather than aiding them to stop drinking altogether.

Severe alcoholics and those who are able to cut down without help would not be eligible for the drug.

Alcohol dependence is diagnosed if people show three out of six principal symptoms at the same time within the last year.

They are: strong desire to take alcohol, difficulties in controlling the use of alcohol, neglect of hobbies due to alcohol use, persisting with alcohol use despite seeing it harm themselves, tolerance to the effects of alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms.

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