The announcement today by NICE guidelines regarding the use of Nalmefene in mild to moderate alcohol dependence cements the place of opiate antagonists, of which naltrexone is another example, in the challenging treatment of addictions. Nalmefene and naltrexone act in very similar ways, blocking naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain, attenuating the reward systems associated with consumption of alcohol and blocking the effects of opiates such as heroin, morphine and methadone. When taken as prescribed, opiate antagonists, licensed only in tablet form in the UK, are effective in a significant group of these patients.

As Dr Vince Gradillas, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director of The Naltrexone Clinic explains, “Addictions, however, are complex disorders, often accompanied by mental ill health, social, vocational or other problems caused by or predisposing to misuse of substances that also need addressing. Furthermore, opiate antagonists only block and do not actively provide addicts with any form of immediate reward or resolution to their distress. Voluntarily taking a tablet, therefore, which does not achieve a reward or reduce psychological pain is often a poor option even for motivated addicts, which partly explains the rather low compliance and relapse rates with this form of treatment, and hence use, of already licensed naltrexone, despite opiate antagonists being available to clinicians and patients for 40 years. Often, particularly for opiate addiction, the process of detoxing itself can prove too difficult a step for many.”

Abbeycare and The Naltrexone Clinic are collaborating to provide services that help overcome some of these difficulties. Abbeycare specialises in rapid opiate detoxes, a five day treatment that increases opiate detox completion rates, and provides motivational and 12-step therapies that continue to play a key role in the treatment of  problems associated with addictions.  The Naltrexone Clinic, located in London, Birmingham and Newmarket, helps to overcome opiate and alcohol addiction with medical treatments.

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.