NICE Announces New Prescription Drug for Drinkers

In what some critics are calling a short-sighted attempt to reduce the number of problem drinkers in the UK, the National Institute for Health Clinical Excellence (NICE) has announced a plan to provide moderate drinkers with a new anti-drinking drug known as nalmefene. The plan will require the NHS and local officials to come up with the necessary funding in a matter of months. No information is available if this would work with drug addiction methods or not.

The drug is intended for adults considered moderate drinkers but who otherwise show no ill effects of their alcohol consumption. As a benchmark, the drug would be given to men who drink three pints of beer per night and women who drink two medium glasses of wine. The drug is designed to be taken with that first drink, with the expectation that it will reduce the craving for any additional drinking.

The Telegraph estimates some 750,000 adults could be given the drug once the programme starts. Supporters of the programme claim it will reduce problem drinking and ultimately save taxpayer money by cutting down on the number of people eventually needing treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence. However, not everyone agrees.

Critics say the estimated £280 million annual cost of the programme spends money unnecessarily. Furthermore, it places additional stress on the healthcare delivery system by requiring doctors to inquire about patient drinking habits even when seeing them for issues completely unrelated to alcohol consumption. Critics say the same goals could be achieved simply by further restricting alcohol advertising and setting minimum per-unit prices for alcohol products.

What is not clear is whether patients will have the opportunity to refuse to answer questions posed by the doctors. Further complicating matters is a rule that disqualifies those able to cut down on their own from getting the drug. How would that be determined? If a patient wants the drug as a perceived ‘magic pill’ to help them cut down without trying, he or she only has to say they haven’t been able to reduce alcohol levels on their own. Some sources are doubtful about the possibility of patients developing a prescription drug addiction.

Mixed Results

Nalmefene went through the usual rigorous testing prior to being approved by the Government. The results have been mixed. On the one hand, the drug did appear to help some patients when paired with counselling, as opposed to attempting to cut down with counselling alone. On the other hand, the testing was inconclusive about whether or not the positive results achieved through use of the drug were observed long-term.

Whether the nalmefene programme is a good idea or not remains to be seen. It may help some people with a drinking problem cut down before the problem becomes severe. Then again, it may end up being a financial and administrative nightmare that does nothing to make a dent in Britain’s alcohol problem. The only way to know for sure is to give the programme a fair trial.

If you are already battling alcohol dependence, you should know that this drug is not for you. Nalmefene has only shown to be effective in curbing the desire to drink among those consuming moderate amounts of alcohol. As someone who is already dependent, you need a comprehensive treatment programme that includes both detox and psychotherapeutic treatments.

At Addiction Helper, we can come alongside to assist you in finding that treatment. We offer free advice, alcohol use assessments, and referrals to the best treatment programmes in the UK. We work with many private residential clinics, knowing the residential treatment model is usually the best option for alcohol dependent patients. If you would like more information, please call our 24-hour drug addiction recovery helpline right away.


  1. The Telegraph
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