Doctor Stirs Furor Over "Cure" for Alcoholism

An alcoholism-conquering testimonial by a French cardiologist is helping an obscure muscle relaxant become a lightning rod in the global medical community.     Olivier Ameisen, one of the top heart specialists in France and an associate professor of medicine at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote a book that’s now being published in the United States called The End of My Addiction, in which he details how he overcame his dependence on alcohol by self-administering the spasticity drug baclofen (Kemstro or Lioresal).

In the book, he calls for clinical trials to test baclofen’s effectiveness in suppressing the craving for alcohol. He has also written articles on the subject in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism and the Journal of the American Medical Association. The media stir he has caused has aroused a clamor from the alcoholic community for off-label prescriptions of the drug, and a chorus of criticism from some scientists.

Skeptical specialists warn of the danger and false hope of supposed “miracle cures.” They fear that the media furor caused by Ameisen’s theory is overshadowing the complex nature of alcoholism. “Encouraging people to think that there is a miracle molecule is to completely misunderstand the nature of alcoholism, and is extremely irresponsible,” said Michel Reynaud of Paul-Brousse hospital in Paris.

However, some physicians have undertaken informal experiments with baclofen, and have reported intriguing results.“I prescribed it to two alcoholics who were really at the end of the road,” said Renaud de Beaurepaire of the Paul-Guiraud hospital at Villejuif near Paris. “To be honest, it was pretty miraculous.”

And in Geneva, Switzerland, Pascal Garche used the drug on 12 patients, and seven reported marked improvements. “I have never had reactions like this before,” he said. “We cannot ignore findings such as this.”

In his book, Ameisen testified that he stumbled across a couple of minor reports in the medical literature about baclofen’s easing of cocaine and alcohol addiction in rats. But he could find no addiction specialists familiar with its action. So he determined to try it himself. After being hopelessly dependent on alcohol for many years, Ameisen began in March 2002 by treating himself with 5 milligrams a day of baclofen.

“The first effects were a magical muscular relaxation and baby-like sleep,” he said. Almost at once, he also felt a reduction in his desire for drink. Gradually, he boosted his daily dose to a peak of 270 milligrams a day. He soon felt he was “cured.” Today, he still takes 30 to 50 milligrams a day.

“Mine is the first case in which a course of medicine has completely suppressed alcohol addiction,” he said. “Now, I can have a glass and it has no effect. Above all, I no longer have that irrepressible need to drink.”


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