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A New Assault on Addiction
motivated to take it. "If this drug isn't used with a comprehensive treatment program," Medicine: Can a single drug keep alcoholics on the
says DuPont Merck president Kurt Landgraf, “the failure rates are very high." And wagon and help junkies through withdrawal? naltrexone poses hazards of its own. The common side effects are minor, ranging from nausea to joint pain, but it can cause liver damage at just five times the recommended volunteered, in early 1990, to take part in an experiment at the University of Pennsylvania. that the drug should not be used by anyone The fortyish sales manager kept attending her currently dependent on opioids” such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but for three heroin and morphine. Because it fences off the months she also took: daily doses of a drug nervous system from opiates circulating in the called naltrexone. "Once I started," she recalls, "everything turned around. It stopped my desire to drink, the craving." Five years later, withdrawal. Yet in Spain, Israel and Mexico, a Catrambone is still soberand the medication small band of clinicians are working together that helped her is gaining new stature as a doctors check their patients into intensive care naltrexone's maker announced that the Food units, place them under heavy sedation to and Drug Administration has approved it as a shield them from pain, then use naltrexone to chemical treatment for alcoholism the first one induce “ultrarapid detoxification." Instead of shaking, sweating and retching for 10 days or mavericks are now claiming that their own more, the recipients purportecl1y go home naltrexone regimen can get heroin addicts clean after a brief hospital stay. Though only through withdrawal in a matter of hours, 11 cases have been described in the medical enabling them to start new lives the next day. literature, CITA, the Spanish based firm that Caveats abound, but as one addiction specialist exults, the drug has "amazing social Quick detox: An addict takes the cure
Fast track: The procedure isn't performed
in the United States, but a few Americans are now traveling to Mexico to gamble $10,000 stayed dry for three months, compared with on it. Last week it was "Monica’s” turn. On learned 20 years ago that it could rob drugs just 23 percent of those receiving counseling Sunday night, the 22-year-old heroin addict like heroin and morphine of their pleasurable and a placebo. And when the naltrexone entered the Hospital Las Américas in effects, by covering the receptors they attach takers did revert to drinking, they were only to in the nervous system. The DuPont Merck half as likely to drink heavily. In short, the afternoon she was ready to start treatment. As Pharmaceutical Co. started marketing the drug drug enabled them to slip without falling. as Trexan in 1984, after studies showed it On the strength of those findings, DuPont others drew bile from her stomach, Dr. David could he1p heroin addicts avoid relapse once Merck is now rechristening the drug ReVia, they had been through withdrawal. Since then, and promoting it as a dual-purpose abstinence booster. With some 11 million Americans unconsciously while medical workers moni- problem drinkers have just as much to gain suffering from alcoholism, demand for the tored her heart rate and blood pressure. And from the treatment. In a 1992 Yale study of drug should now soar. For all the excitement, 104 alcoholics, for example, 51 percent of though, no one is calling naltrexone a cure, naltrexone no longer affected her, the doctors finishing the process, the young woman awoke briefly, demanding to know why no one had started the treat The Sobriety Pill
Doctors have long prescribed naltrexone
(right) to he1p former drag users stay

clean, but other uses are now emerging:
For alcoholics: By shielding the nervous
system from alcohol's pleasurable effects, daily doses of the drug can he1p problem if "Monica" receives support, and a daily dose of naltrexone, she could someday tell a story like For addicts: In an ongoing experiment,
clinicians in Spain, Israel and Mexico are
using naltrexone to speed current drug
addicts through the harrowing process of


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