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FDA Approves Drug to Curb Craving for Alcohol


February 1995

The Food and Drug Administration has given approval to DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Corporation to begin to sell the drug naltrexone as a treatment for alcoholism (Geoffrey Cowley, "A New Assault on Addiction," Newsweek, Jan. 30, 1995, p. 51; Steve Sakson, "Daily Pill Will Treat Alcoholism," The Oregonian (Portland), Jan. 18, 1995, p. A12).

The drug has been used as part of a treatment program for heroin addicts. Naltrexone acts by covering the pleasurable effects of drugs, thus lessening the craving for them. It has been marketed under the name Trexan® and will be marketed for alcoholism treatment as Revia®.

A few physicians in Spain, Mexico, and Israel are using naltrexone to force quick withdrawal from heroin addiction. They check patients into intensive care and sedate them heavily. Physicians then can cause "ultrarapid detoxification" by injecting naltrexone. Patients reportedly "clean up" in a matter of hours without the pain and suffering usually associated with detox. Only eleven cases of this procedure are on record.

DuPont Merck warns that dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction is not that easy. Naltrexone should be used on a daily basis to lessen the craving for drugs and should be accompanied by counseling, they advise.

The only other drug on the market now labeled for treatment of alcoholics is Antabuse, which causes nausea when the patient drinks alcohol. [There are anecdotal reports from some former alcoholics that they use marijuana to stay away from alcohol and its destructive consequences -- more destructive than their use of marijuana. -- EES]