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'Mild alcoholics' to be prescribed new drug nalmefene to help them cut back

Published:  03 October, 2014

People who drink more than two large glasses of wine per night or three pints are to be prescribed the drug nalmefene to help them cut back, according to new guidance for doctors.

wineMild alcoholics to be offered drug to help them cut backDrinking half a bottle of wine per night or three pints of beer, and failure to reduce consumption after two weeks, could be classed as mild alcohol dependency. New guidance suggests GPs should then offer drug nalmefene.

Draft guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advises that men drinking over seven units per day, and women drinking over five, who do not cut back inside two weeks, should be prescribed the tablet to help them reduce their alcohol intake.

Around 600,000 people will be eligible for the drug, which costs £3 per tablet. It is licensed for use alongside counselling.

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

Prof Mark Bellis, alcohol lead for the Faculty of Public Health, told the Telegraph that the new drug would "increase pressure on the NHS when there are alternatives that would reduce pressure on health services by cutting alcohol consumption".

He added: "There are plenty of ways that don't require prescribing and the additional pressures on the NHS that could reduce harmful drinking.

"We need to think very carefully about how we use limited resources and prescribe for people who with relatively simple population interventions such as reducing advertising and minimum unit price could quite easily reduce alcohol consumption to safer levels."

According to Bellis nalmefene reduces alcohol consumption by a relatively modest amount compared with counselling alone and could have side effects. He added that it was not clear yet whether the reduction in alcohol consumption was long-term.