Alcoholics in the UK are to be given ketamine in a clinical trial to see if it can help reduce heavy drinking. The study, which is being conducted by the National Institute for Health Research, will test the effectiveness of the drug in helping alcoholics overcome their addiction.
The £2.4m University of Exeter-led trial will take place at seven NHS sites across the UK. It follows a previous study which found that patients given ketamine combined with therapy stayed completely sober, with 86% remaining abstinent after a six-month follow-up.
The trial will involve 280 patients who will be given either ketamine or a placebo alongside therapy. The patients will be monitored over a six-month period to assess the effects of the drug on their drinking habits.
Trial lead Professor Celia Morgan, from the University of Exeter, said: “More than two million UK adults have serious alcohol problems, yet only one in five of those get treatment. Three out of four people who quit alcohol will be back drinking heavily after a year.”
Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost the NHS around £3.5 billion each year, and wider UK society around £40 billion. Ketamine is a licensed medical drug, widely used as an anaesthetic and in pain relief, which can be used ‘off-label’ as an alternative treatment in therapeutic settings. “We urgently need new treatments.” Professor Morgan said. “If this trial establishes that ketamine and therapy works, we hope we can begin to see it used in NHS settings.”
Dr Stephen Kaar, one of the study leads of the University of Manchester, and Consultant Addictions Psychiatrist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Ketamine assisted psychotherapy for people with alcohol dependence offers the chance for a paradigm shift in how we treat this challenging and frequently re-occurring problem.
“By bringing together the specific biochemical effects of ketamine and the supportive, structured and change focused space of psychotherapy, this study should finally establish the usefulness of this approach to treating addictions.
The Ketamine for Reduction of Alcohol Relapse (KARE) trial will be the largest of it’s kind in the world, and will begin recruitment mid-way through 2023.