Taipei, May 13 (CNA) Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University Hospital (NCKU) and the U.S.'s National Institutes of Health (NIH) have jointly developed a new treatment for heroin addiction based on a drug used to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
The institutions have found that a daily intake of less than 5 milligrams of the Alzheimer's drug Ebixa (memantine) can help heroin addicts receiving methadone therapy reduce their reliance on methadone, said Lu Ru-band, a psychiatry professor at the NCKU's medical college.
Methadone is a drug substitute for heroin and is used to ween people addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs off their habits.
A three-month clinical trial conducted by the hospital on 90 heroin addiction patients found that the 48 who took Ebixa saw their methadone dependence decline while the other 42 who took placebos grew more dependent on methadone, Lu said.
In addition, Lu said Ebixa seemed to be effective at protecting and regenerating nerves and noted that researchers also observed a reduced amount of neurotoxins and cytotoxins in the bodies of the patients who took Ebixa.
Lu said methadone replacement therapy, which has been used in Taiwan since 2004, has only a limited effect in eradicating drug addiction because it simply replaces short-acting opiates with long-acting ones, such as methadone.
The hospital has already obtained patents for discovering that memantine "protects inflammation-related degeneration of dopamine neurons" in the United States and European Union countries.
Dopamine neurons can be damaged by the use of methadone, leading to greater dependence on the substance, and Lu said the discovery could help more people recover from their addictions in the future if the new treatment is successfully promoted.
By Yang Sz-ruei and Christie Chen
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Alzheimer's drug useful in treating heroin addicts: hospital