‘Drugs on offer to curb alcohol abuse’

An expert in addiction treatment has said many people with problem drinking are simply unaware of the medication options available to them.

Dr Colm O’Gara made his comments after new figures released by the HSE show that the already small number of people receiving drugs to combat alcohol addiction has shrunk even further in the past three years.

The figures detail the number of courses of two drugs — Disulfiram and Acamposate — prescribed under the state’s General Medical Services (GMS) scheme and the Drugs Payment Scheme (DPS) in 2012 to last year.

It shows that the number of courses prescribed, as well as the number of people to whom they were issued, has fallen year-on-year.

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The majority of the prescriptions were issued under the GMS scheme. The number of patents prescribed the two drugs in 2012 was 2,471, but this had fallen to 2,133 last year.

Typically, the frequency of the prescriptions would be between four and five times the number of people treated, meaning patients would undergo four or five courses over a year.

The figures show that overall, in 2012 there were 10,827 ‘claims’, but that last year this had fallen to 8,537.

Dr O’Gara, who is a consultant psychiatrist who treats both inpatients and outpatients at the St John of God Hospital in Dublin, said there was strong scientific proof that the drugs worked — but that not enough people knew about them.

“People do not have access to these treatments,” he said.

“There is a psychological approach and a mutual support approach that dominates.”

He said Alcoholics Anonymous was effective but said it was “fact” that medication did work and that the best approach overall was a “multi-factorial” one.

“I think that message is poorly understood out there and a message that is not getting through to clinicians or the public.”

He said he was satisfied that those prescribing the drugs were doing so properly and that one reason for the relatively low rate of rescription was that in the case of Disulfiram, typically sold as antabuse, drinking while taking it could have serious health impacts and there was even a risk of death.

Acamposate, often sold under the name Campral, is a drug which influences cravings. Selincro, originally known as nalmetrene, has now also come on the market.

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