Several doctors in Japan are hopeful that a new drug licensed from a French pharmaceutical company may be part of the solution that alcoholics need to kick the habit. Regtect went on sale earlier this year in Japan, becoming the first alcohol-dependence drug in 30 years to launch in a country that is famous for being “alcohol happy.”
Susumu Higuchi is the director of the country’s biggest alcoholism treatment facility, the National Hospital Kurihama Alcoholism Center. He is one of those who are hopeful that the drug, which helps the chemical imbalance in a person’s brain, will help alcoholics get rid of their craving for alcohol. Regtect has been on sale in 24 other countries but only got clearance from Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry last May. In the clinical test prior to getting approval, almost half of the 320 patients involved in the study became alcohol-abstitent after just 24 weeks of using the drug, compared to the 36% in the placebo group. Higuchi said that they will be accumulating clinical data to be able to come up with a more effective dosage. Conventional drugs used to treat alcoholism usually cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea and palpitations after the taker ingests alcohol, to discourage them from drinking again.
There are an estimated 800,000 alcoholics in Japan but only around 40,000 a year seek and get treatment. One of the challenges for drugs like Regtect is the social stigma attached with taking it. According to Tomomi Imanari, head of a non-profit group called ASK which helps people with dependence problems, Japan is a “pro-alcohol society”. People who don’t drink sometimes have a hard time fitting in, both professionally and personally. Imanari said alcoholism is “not recognized as a disease” even as it is associated with several health problems with the liver, pancreas and brain as well as a major factor in suicide and domestic violence.
[ via Kyodo News ]