Re-Purposing Prescription Drugs to Fight Addiction

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Two of the world’s most acclaimed universities, Harvard and MIT, have begun creating a library that catalogs the ways thousands of drugs that may have great “off-label” uses (secondary uses not originally contemplated by the manufacturer).  Some scientists are now pouring over millions of data points for information that could be helpful in combating alcoholism.  The idea is to find drugs that affect the brain function and can turn off the strong cravings that literally compel alcoholics to drink.  Developing a new drug can take as long as 10 years and cost $1 billion or more.  This new data library of existing drugs provides a wealth of information that can save time and money in the battle against addiction.

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George Koob, the director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a big supporter of this project.  He notes that over 90,000 people are killed as a result of alcohol each year (between overdoses and auto accidents), almost three times the number killed by opioid overdoses, that we see broadcast daily on the news.  There are currently three drugs approved by the FDA to treat alcoholism, Disulfiram, Naltrexone and Acomprosate, but less than 20% of alcoholics get any treatment.  However, with the discovery of other options, perhaps the issue can get wider recognition and result in more recoveries.  There are a few drugs showing some promise, including one called Gabapentin, and they may be ready to begin human trials before the end of the year.

These advances are very positive , but regardless of the outcome, it’s important to remember that there will never be a magic elixir to cure alcoholism.  There are still psychological and social factors contributing to the disease.  Nonetheless, hope springs eternal for a drug to stop cravings, which would go a long way toward making the goal of recovery that much easier to obtain.

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