ABC Radio: Heroin addiction drug proposed for problem gamblers

By Meredith Griffiths, ABC Radio, Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TONY EASTLEY: New research says there are promising signs that problem gamblers could be helped by the drug Naltrexone which is used to treat heroin addicts overseas.

Guidelines produced by Monash University say gambling addiction should be treated as a medical condition.

With more, here’s Meredith Griffiths.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: According to the Productivity Commission about 2 per cent of adults have a gambling problem.

New guidelines say they may helped by the drug Naltrexone

Shane Thomas is the director of the Problem Gambling Research and Treatment Centre at Monash University

SHANE THOMAS: You have in the body overproduction of endogenous opioids, so in the brain, and what happens is that this leads to reductions in impulse control. Now what Naltrexone does effectively is to block that and to improve the extent of impulse control.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Other drugs, including anti-depressants, didn’t stop problem gambling at all.
However, Naltrexone is not used very often in Australia because it’s not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The team at Monash had to rely on studies from overseas, so Professor Thomas wants more research to be done.

SHANE THOMAS: The body of evidence is not as strong as the others, but there’s, you know, some promising indications. So our recommendation is that this is definitely the subject of further research to determine the effectiveness.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: How useful do you think, from the work you’ve done, Naltrexone would be compared to psychological interventions?

SHANE THOMAS: I think the current evidence is in favour of psychological therapies, you know, we have more and stronger evidence for that. You know, people are often very interested in the use of pharmacological agents for treatment of conditions because they hope it’ll be, sort of the golden bullet, you know, that we can take a pill and cure or attend to these problems.

But actually we already have effective therapies in the psychological therapies. So I think that’s where we should focus our current attention and focus our research attention on the pharmacological agents in the future.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Professor Thomas’s team reviewed 13,000 studies on gambling addictions.
They found problem gamblers were more likely to overcome their addiction with the help of doctors or psychologists, than if they just relied on self-help books or online programs.

Tim Costello chairs the National Churches Gambling Taskforce. He supports further research into the effectiveness of Naltrexone on gambling addictions.

TIM COSTELLO: The thing about heroin addicts and alcoholics as opposed to gambling is it’s a physical addiction that Naltrexone helps treat. Gambling is actually a more psychological, is the opportunity of playing the pokies because I’m driving home past one.

So a drug addict or a drinker will drive across the whole city to get a drink or a hit; a pokies addict won’t drive across a whole city to get a hit. So there are differences, but every tool in the tool box needs to be considered.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The new guidelines have been endorsed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

TONY EASTLEY: Meredith Griffiths.