A simple pill for meth addicts on the cards

Researchers from Australia's Curtin University have developed a simple pill that could be used to treat methamphetamine addicts. It would soon be tried in a clinical trial to prove its efficacy and utility said the researchers.

The trial termed N-ICE is being led by the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University where they would see if n-acetyl cysteine, or NAC pill could help in reduction of the cravings for crystal meth in addicts and help them quit. NAC has been shown to balance the chemicals in the brain and target glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is responsible for the cravings. Meth can trigger mood changes and often self harm and NAC has been seen to reduce these effects in the preliminary studies. NAC is an established drug that is useful in paracetamol or acetaminophen overdose and in patients with cystic fibrosis.

Statistics show that one in 100 Australians aged over 14 years are using crystal meth over the last one year. NAC tablets that can be prescribed to be taken twice a day could be a simple method to help addicts quit say researchers.  This trial is being funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and is supported by seven universities and institutes. The main trial would be running out of three clinics at Geelong, Wollongong and Melbourne.

According to lead researcher Professor Rebecca McKetin from Perth’s NDRI, NAC has been studied before and has shown to reduce cravings for meth and other substances such as cannabis, tobacco, cocaine etc. She explained that when a person takes meth for the first time, they become intoxicated and with repeated use they become dependent on the drug where their brains begin to crave the drug and this makes them an addict. NAC can help to reduce these cravings she said. She added that the drug was in addition a safe one as has been seen from earlier studies. Other de-addiction drugs, she said worked on the principle of opposing or blocking the effects of the addictive drug such as naltrexone for heroin addiction. NAC is the first agent that targets the addictive behaviour per se and reduces the cravings. She noted that most meth addicts are usually dependent on several other illicit drugs as well including cannabis and heroin. Reducing cravings for drugs can help these individuals to quit she said.

For this new trial, the team of researchers would recruit 180 individuals and half of them would be given NAC pills for 12 weeks of the study period while the other half of the users would remain as the control group. Researchers expect to publish the results from this study in the next couple of years. According to McKetin this is the largest clinical trial with NAC in addiction and if it is successful, it could mean a new and more cost-effective method to treat meth addiction. Best of this she added was that the pills could be taken home with a prescription and addicts could manage their own methamphetamine use at home.

The trial website www.nicetrial.info is open to the public for those who are interested.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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