Drug therapy for heroin addicts helps women quit smoking

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New research is suggesting that women trying to quit smoking can be helped by taking medication approved for the treatment of alcohol and heroin dependence.

The medication naltrexone, when used in conjunction with nicotine patches and behavioral support, over a a two-month period, improved by almost 50 percent women's ability to abstain from smoking for the duration of the program, compared to the same program minus naltrexone.

The researchers say that women having trouble quitting smoking may be helped in the short-term by taking the opiate blocker along with standard treatments and counseling.

The naltrexone also prevented the weight gain that commonly comes with quitting smoking.

According to the study however naltrexone did not offer similar benefits for men.

Study author Andrea King, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, says women historically do not respond as well as men to smoking-cessation programmes and the naltrexone is thought to reduce cigarette and alcohol craving by blocking drug-induced brain signals that convey pleasure.

For the study King and her team studied the potential benefits of the drug among 110 men and women, ranging in age from 21 to 65, who smoked between 15 and 40 cigarettes a day for an average of 25 years.

All were healthy and motivated to stop smoking, and as a part of the two-month program, all attended six counseling sessions with a therapist, and all used daily nicotine patches of decreasing intensity over the course of the first four weeks; half the participants also took 50 milligrams daily of naltrexone for eight weeks, while the other half took a placebo.

Each underwent a weekly assessment and a post-program follow-up six months after the initial quit date.

King and her colleagues evaluated cigarette use, cravings, and treatment side effects and found that at the end of the two-month period, men had better overall success at quitting than women did, which is a common result seen in most standard cessation therapies.

But the researchers also found that most of the difference was confined to the non-naltrexone group.

Among those taking naltrexone, both men and women had similar two-month cessation success rates with 62 percent among the men and 58 percent among the women.

Men not taking naltrexone had nearly the same cessation success rate as their naltrexone counterparts.

However, the women not taking the opiate blocker had only a 39 percent success rate.

The researchers also found that the naltrexone appeared to help women reduce their cravings for cigarettes as well as the typical discomforts associated with tobacco withdrawal.

Yet, while the drug did not appear to influence the men's quit rate, King and her team did find that naltrexone reduced both the male and female weight gain commonly experienced by quitters; those on the medication gained only one pound in the first month after quitting, while the non-drug group gained approximately four pounds.

Naltrexone side effects, such as nausea and light-headedness, were mild, and only light-headedness persisted beyond the first month.

However the researchers found six months after treatment, the overall success rates had dropped to around one-third of all study participants and they believe a longer initial regimen including naltrexone would offer better and longer-lasting results.

King says more research is needed and they are now conducting a study that's three times larger than the first one with the hope it will explain how the drug works.

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.

More information on this ongoing study is available at: http://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT00271024, or http://stopsmoking.uchicago.edu.

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