Anti-alcohol pill: £3 NHS tablet offered to help drinkers cut back on beer and wine

Nalmefene cut drinking by 61 per cent when used with counselling  

People who drink half a bottle of wine or more than three pints every night are being offered a life-saving pill to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.

An estimated 600,000 NHS patients will be eligible to receive the nalmefene tablet after trials showed it cut drinking by 61 per cent over six months when used with counselling.

Experts claim the drug, which costs £3 a tablet, could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,074 alcohol-related diseases and injuries by keeping drinking cravings at bay.

The pill, also known as Selincro, is administered orally once a day and is taken when people feel the urge drink.

It works by blocking the part of the brain which gives drinkers pleasure from alcohol, stopping them from wanting more than one drink.

However, the pill is aimed at reducing alcohol intake, not stopping drinking, and severe alcoholics will not be eligible to receive it.

Background: How does alcohol affect your liver and heart?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), who are recommending the drug’s use, say that nalmefene is clinically and cost effective for the NHS when used alongside psychosocial support.

Professor Carole Longson, for Nice health technology evaluation centre, 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.

Under new plans, GPs would ask patients about their alcohol intake even when they visit them for unrelated health issues.

Men would qualify to receive the treatment if they consume 7.5 units of alcohol per day - around three to four pints of standard strength lager.

It would be offered to women who consume five units a day, which amounts to around half a bottle of wine.

It has already been given to patients in Scotland since October 2013. A final decision to roll out the drug on the NHS in England at a cost of £288 million a year will be taken in November.

Additional reporting by PA

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