The European Medicines Agency has recommended approval of Selincro — the first approved drug therapy to proactively help curb a person’s urge to drink.
Up to now, people with an alcohol dependence had to stop drinking before beginning treatment for their addiction — a big hurdle.
However, all of the treatments, including psychosocial counselling measures, cannot prevent patients from relapsing.
The drug, developed by Lundbeck, reduces alcohol consumption and in doing so, minimises the consequences of harmful drinking.
It is regarded as a new treatment option for patients who may not have sought treatment before.
Studies involving 2,000 alcohol-dependent patients found those treated with the drug reduced their alcohol consumption by more than 40% within the first month, and by more than 60% at six months and a year.
In Ireland, research shows:
* Every seven hours, someone dies of analcohol-related illness;
* each night, a total of 2,000 hospital beds are occupied for alcohol-related reasons;
* alcohol-related problems cost Ireland about €3.7bn annually.
There were no major safety concerns identified during the Selincro studies, conducted over a number of years, and the drug was generally well tolerated.
The drug will be used to help lower alcohol consumption in alcohol-dependent adults who are drinking heavily but have no physical withdrawal symptoms and do not require immediate detoxification.
The active substance of Selincro is nalmefene — which is an opioid receptor antagonist.
It blocks the action of certain receptors in the brain called opioid receptors, which are involved in the complex process of alcohol dependence.
The European Medicine Agency has recommended that the drug should be prescribed together with continuous psychosocial support that focuses on treatment adherence and reducing alcohol consumption.
Health experts have said any properly researched drug that can help to reduce the national alcohol problem was to be welcomed.
However, the jury remains out as to how effective it will be.
The European Medicines Agency’s opinion on Selincro will be sent to the European Commission for the granting of a marketing authorisation.
According to the Irish Medicines Board, marketing authorisation is valid for the entire community market, which means the drug may be marketed in all member states.