A pill that fights alcohol cravings could become widely available across the United Kingdom.
It’s called nalmefene and it costs just less than $4 per tablet.
The Guardian reports that the pill, also known as Selincro, is taken once a day whenever one feels the need to drink.
Rather than aiming to eliminate the desire for alcohol like some medications, nalmefene instead strives to reduce drinking little by little.
It targets the part of the brain that delivers pleasurable sensations after drinking alcohol, blocking these receptors and thus preventing the patient from wanting to binge drink.
Male patients qualify for a prescription if they drink 7.5 units of alcohol per day, and female patients qualify if they drink 5 units, or about half a bottle of wine.
Ineligible for the drug would be extreme alcoholics in need of a comprehensive treatment.
But if approved for use in Britain and Wales, nearly 600,000 people will be eligible for a prescription.
Scottish doctors have been prescribing it since October of last year.
According to the Guardian, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) praised the drug after trials proved it to decrease alcohol use by 61 percent over the course of six months when paired with therapy.
Professor Carole Longson of the NICE health technology evaluation center said,
Those who could be prescribed nalmefene have already taken the first big steps by visiting their doctor, engaging with support services and taking part in therapy programs.
We are pleased to be able to recommend the use of nalmefene to support people further in their efforts to fight alcohol dependence.
Experts claim the pill could save approximately 1,854 lives and prevent 43,074 diseases and injuries directly attributed to alcohol abuse.
The UK’s National Health Service will vote next month whether to shell out the equivalent of roughly $360 million a year to make nalmefene available in Britain.
Alcohol dependence, not to be confused with alcohol abuse, is diagnosed if a patient displays three out of six symptoms during a single time period within a year.
These six symptoms are (from the Guardian): a heightened urge to drink, difficulty keeping alcohol use in moderation, changing one’s lifestyle because of drinking, continuing to drink even after it damages one’s life, a heightened alcohol tolerance and the emergence of withdrawal symptoms.
It’s questionable whether nalmefene will truly have the large-scale effects experts suggest, however, as the experimental trials only involved people who were already motivated to break their addiction.