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Serious Science: the ultimate party drug? Part 1

Monday, 5 November 2007 — by

We’re approaching a point in time when there will be a pill for almost every ill. We have ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’, as well as clinically-prescribed drugs to keep people level-headed enough to live a more normal life. But what if there was a party drug? No, not Speed, Ecstasy or Cocaine, I mean something that does away with the need for all of those, as well as drink, too. Would that be the ultimate party drug?

I use the word: “ill” both loosely and advisedly, as it’s a subjective point these days. Being overweight, unsociable or unattractive are often presented as illnesses these days, which can only foment more turmoil in the minds of our youth.

However socially despotic the fashion media might be towards certain traits of frame, face or fancy, that’s another issue, not quite within the remit of this particular article. But it does form an interesting backdrop to the issues modern society brings forth.

Work hard. Play harder

It’s a common mantra: work hard, play hard. But it’s the playing around that often makes the working part all the harder. Well, what if you could play smarter, not harder? That’s the question being examined in this New Scientist article discussing the ultimate party drug:

“Alcohol is one of the last great technological throwbacks. It is made today pretty much the way it was 4,000 years ago. And it’s crude stuff. Which makes you wonder: if we can take the calories out of food, the pregnancy out of sex and even the sex out of pregnancy, why not take the harm out of alcohol?”

Quite apart from the health implications of excessive drinking, there are also genuine business-related issues to ‘throwing a sickie’. In light of businesses losing money and people losing loved ones, there’s obviously grounds to develop a party drug that could potentially do away with drink all together.

For me personally, I have never smoked or taken any recreational drugs. I drink sociably, but the thought of a government-backed party drug puts me a very curious place, with my morals torn between the principle and the logic of the matter.

Over the years, there have been several concerted efforts to take the demon drink by the horns. Some even enjoying partial success.

A sobering prospect

Over 20 years ago, pharmaceutical company F. Hoffman-La Roche developed a sobriety pill:

“Why have you never heard of it? Why can’t you buy something similar over the counter? Roche was not keen on pursuing a simple sobriety tablet. It feared that, in the long run, such a pill might encourage drinking, rather than make it safer.”

The main problem was that their drug had no effect on the level of alcohol present in the blood. The drug merely undid “the behavioural effects of drunkenness”, which isn’t really the end result F. Hoffman-La Roche was hoping for.

So you might feel sober, but a quick blood or breath test would prove otherwise.

Taking the headache out of the drink problem

Often, a drug developed for one ill will help relieve another ail, too. As is the case with the migraine pill Topomax, which helps alcoholics kick the bottle and not the bucket:

“A migraine pill seems to help alcoholics taper off their drinking without detox treatment, researchers report, offering a potential option for a hard-to-treat problem. In the study, 15 percent who took Topamax quit drinking entirely for seven weeks or more.

The drug, Topamax, works in a different way from three other medications already approved for treating alcoholism.

Experts said the drug is likely to appeal to heavy drinkers who would rather seek help from their own doctors, rather than enter a rehab clinic to dry out. The drug costs at least $350 a month, plus the price of doctor’s visits.”

There’s also another example, one called propylthiouracil:

“Normally prescribed for an overactive thyroid, it has also been shown to protect against cirrhosis of the liver in alcoholics, but is not widely used for that purpose.”

However, prescribing such drugs to alcoholics would seem to be a license to continue their alcohol abuse, which is ultimately an abuse of themselves.

No matter the cost benefits or the profit margins the pharmaceutical companies could derive from re-branding an existing drug, the harm done from bad publicity could not be mitigated easily, if at all.

Bad publicity aside, could previous successes be a worthy motivator to the pharmaceutical industry?

Find out in part two

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