Drinkers could be offered NHS pill to cut down on alcohol

Guy Bentley
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Half a bottle of wine a day could qualify you for the drug (Source: Getty)

Moderate drinkers could soon find themselves being given a £3 pill to help them cut down on their alcohol intake.

Those who drink around half a bottle of wine or three pints a day could be prescribed the drug nalmefene. If the plans are given the go-ahead, 600,000 adults could be prescribed the drug, which is the only one of its kind that seeks to cut down on alcohol use rather stop drinking altogether.

The NHS's recommended limit is two to three units a day for women and three to four for women.

The drug works by disrupting the brain's release of the chemical dopamine, which acts as a reward mechanism triggering the person to want another drink.

Health professionals have claimed the pill could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,047 alcohol-related diseases and injuries.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended the drug after trials showed it cut drinking by 61 per cent over six months in combination with counselling. The drug is to be taken once a day when patients feel they most want a drink. However, the pill will not be available for the most severe alcoholics.

Furthermore, GPs would ask patients about their alcohol intake even if they visit for unrelated health issues. The final decision on whether to roll out the drug on the NHS in England at a cost of £288m will be taken in November.

Professor Carole Longson, at Nice health technology evaluation centre, welcomed the plans:

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.

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