Up to 600,000 patients with alcohol dependency in England will from today have ‘routine’ access to a new treatment approach after cost regulators endorsed National Health Service use of Lundbeck’s Selincro (nalmefene).

Following draft guidelines in July, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has this morning (Thursday) published final guidance recommending the drug as an option for cutting alcohol consumption in adult patients with alcohol dependence, in those without physical withdrawal symptoms and who do not require immediate detoxification.

The decision means that, for the first time, patients will have access to a pill to reduce alcohol intake rather than stop it altogether, which some experts believe is a more realistic treatment aim. 

Lundbeck notes that, along with counselling, Selincro could help more than halve the amount of alcohol consumed - by an average of 61% after six months, which equates to around 28 fewer bottles of wine per person over one month.

But the drug should only be initiated in patients who continue to have a WHO high drinking risk level two weeks after initial assessment, meaning men who cannot cut down to below 7.5 units per day or women who can’t cut down to less than 5 units a day, NICE has stipulated.

Reaching more patients?

Jonathan Chick, Consultant Psychiatrist, Honorary Professor at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said Selincro’s approval is important.

“Although for many people dependent on alcohol, abstinence is the preferred and optimal goal, nalmefene represents an alternative step, helping people to cut down drinking to less harmful levels when they are not ready and have no medical need to give up alcohol altogether,” he noted, adding that this “may help us to engage many alcohol dependent patients that we know are not currently receiving help”.

And aside from the obvious health benefit, cutting unhealthy alcohol intake could help ease the financial drag of misuse on NHS resources, which currently cost the health service in England alone around £3.5 billion a year.