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November 2007 Issue

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Epilepsy Drug May Curb Alcohol Dependence

Published November 2007

A drug commonly prescribed to treat seizures associated with epilepsy reduces heavy drinking and promotes abstinence among alcohol-dependent people, a newly published study shows.

Detailed in the Oct. 10, 2007,  issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the multi-site study of the drug topiramate (Topamax) identifies a potential addition to the small but growing number of therapies available for people struggling with alcoholism.

“Results of this study could lead to greater treatment access and give physicians another option for helping people with alcohol dependence,” says Robert Anthenelli, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Tristate Tobacco and Alcohol Research Center (TriTARC).

Anthenelli was the principal investigator of one of the 17 sites studying topiramate as part of the Topiramate for Alcoholism Study Group.

The JAMA study was led by Bankole Johnson, MD, PhD, of the University of Virginia.

During the 14-week study, 371 male and female alcoholics were treated with topiramate or a placebo. Researchers evaluated the number of heavy drinking days (greater than or equal to five drinks a day for men, four for women) for each participant and found that topiramate lowered the percentage of heavy drinking days by an average of 8.44 percent more than the placebo.

All study participants were drinking heavily when they entered the trial. Each participant also received weekly 15-minute interventions by trained medical staff. The interventions were designed to enhance adherence to the medication and treatment regimen.

Anthenelli, who also directs the substance abuse dependence program at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, says that combining counseling with medication is often the most effective way to treat addiction. And, he says, this study shows that a range of trained health care practitioners—not just addiction specialists—can help with the counseling portion of treatment.

“Opening up the treatment plan to a variety of health care providers adds even more options for patients and could allow for even greater access to treatment,” Anthenelli says.

Manufactured by Ortho-McNeil Neurologics Inc., topiramate has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of seizures and migraine headaches but is not currently approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence.

Ortho-McNeil Janssen Scientific Affairs provided medication and funding for this study.

TriTARC is no longer studying topiramate for alcohol dependence, but is conducting other alcohol-related research. To learn more about alcohol dependence or current clinical trials, call (513) 558-7179 or toll-free at (877) 874-8272.

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