As reported by the New Haven Register, April 6, 2005.

Drug Holds Promise in Fight Against Alcoholism

By Abram Katz

A long-acting version of a drug that muffles the brain's pleasure center can significantly reduce heavy drinking in alcoholics, according to a study conducted at the University of Connecticut, Yale and other centers.

The drug, naltrexone, has been used in pill form to treat alcohol abusers.

This study, in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, tested a longer acting, injectable form of naltrexone administered once a month.

The six-month study included 627 alcohol-dependent drinkers and was conducted at 24 public hospitals and other facilities in the United States.

Participants in the randomized double blind study cut heavy drinking days by 25 percent.

Results also showed that the median number of heavy drinking days declined from 19 days a month to 3 days a month following treatment.

The study was financed by the manufacturer of the product, Alkermes Inc., a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Mass.

Stephanie O'Malley, professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, said the current study is one of the largest and the first to use Vivitrex.

Vivitrex contains microcapsules of naltrexone that dissolve gradually, lengthening the drug's effect.

O'Malley said Vivitrex could be administered once a month, making compliance easier.

Dr. Henry R. Kranzler, assistant dean for clinical research at the University of Connecticut Medical School and co-author of the study, said naltrexone apparently enhances the negative effects of alcohol while tamping down the pleasurable.

"Clinically, it keeps people from drinking," he said.

O'Malley said naltrexone blocks the brain's opiate receptors, one of the many sites affected by alcohol. Alcohol may stimulate production of the brainšs own natural opiate-like molecules, which could explain how the drug works.

Vivitrex is injected to avoid immediate metabolism by the liver, Kranzler said.

"It extends the duration between people needing to comply. People's motivation increases as time elapses from their last drink," he said.

As with practically all anti-drinking programs, participants in the study also received psychotherapy.

This was a phase III study, the last hurdle before potential federal approval.

About 18 million people in the U.S. are dependent on alcohol, according to federal figures.

Alcoholism causes more than 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and reduces the drinker's lifespan by an average of 15 years.