There are side effects with topiramate, Johnson said. The drug "can make you dizzy, give you headaches and the feeling of pins and needles in your fingers. Some people have difficulty naming words, which goes away after about a week."
The drug isn't cheap -- it costs about $1,000 for three months, according to Johnson. And, patients don't see benefits for two to four weeks. Still, topiramate holds promise, he said.
"We're talking about a drug that will be many times better than what is currently available," he said. "And it doesn't require you to go to rehab."
Dr. J.C. Garbutt, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the new research on topiramate will give doctors another option when they treat alcoholism. Since the drug is already approved for use, doctors can prescribe it immediately.
Garbutt said it's still difficult for doctors to figure out which medication to prescribe to alcoholics. But "this gives you another one you can work with," he said.
Meanwhile, Johnson said, the next step is to study whether people can safely take topiramate for long periods of time.
Meanwhile, the group Public Citizen on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach claiming that a questionnaire that accompanied a press kit on the study violated FDA regulations that prohibit the promotion of the off-label use of a medication. Ortho-McNeil Janssen makes topiramate and funded the study.
For more on alcoholism and treatment, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
SOURCES: Bankole Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville; J.C. Garbutt, M.D., p
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