A Prescription Muscle Relaxer May Be The Wonder Cure For Alcoholism

A growing number of people say they’ve found a cure for their alcoholism, Baclofen, a well-established but potent muscle relaxer. The only problem is it’s not legal – unless you suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease, cerebral palsy or other illnesses involving

Baclofen could become the cure to too many shots of whisky (openthpainter)
Baclofen could become the cure to too many shots of whisky (openthpainter)
Bérénice Rocfort-Giovanni

PARIS -- They are not patients, they are followers. Some call it a "miracle." Others credit the drug for offering them "freedom" or for "saving" them. For these recovering alcoholics, Baclofen, is nothing short of a wonder drug – a long elusive "cure" for their addiction.

Never mind that Baclofen was never meant to treat alcoholism. Instead, this derivative of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a muscle relaxer, meant to treat spastic movement disorders like cerebral palsy or Lou Gehrig's disease.

But a growing body of evidence suggests it also offers relief to alcoholics by inhibiting both withdrawal symptoms and cravings. That was exactly what French heart specialist Olivier Ameisen found when he experimented with Baclofen to treat his own alcoholism. Dr. Ameisen went on to write a book about his experience titled "Le Dernier Verre" (The Last Glass), which was published in 2008 and inspired numerous alcoholics to follow his example. Like him, they started taking big doses of the medication, which has been around since the 1970s and is marketed under the brand names Kemstro, Lioresal, and Gablofen.

"The symptom of the disease is the irrepressible longing for a drink," says Dr. Ameisen. "If you put an end to the symptoms, you put an end to the disease." The doctor first prescribed Baclofen to himself eight years ago. He claims he hasn't had a drink since.

"I owe my life to Olivier Ameisen," says Mia, a 51-year-old interpreter who says she was "cured" within a month. Even better news is that some patients say they can still drink, but moderately. The dream of any addicted person.

Doctors must take risk

The path of liberation is full of pitfalls. Doctors who agree to prescribe the drug to alcoholics are rare, since technically speaking, it is against the law to recommend Baclofen as a treatment for anything other than muscle spasms. One 54-year-old alcoholic, Sylvie, recalls she went to Spain to get her hands on some Baclofen. Sylvie began drinking heavily at 16. Others say they buy the drug on the Internet.

French health authorities warn that "the benefits of Baclofen for the treatment of alcohol addiction has not yet been proven" and strongly encourage alcoholics not to use the drug. Of particular concern are the dosages alcoholics are suspected of taking. Doctors recommend adults take no more than 100-120 milligrams of Baclofen per day. Alcoholics say they need on average 150 milligrams per day for the drug to effectively suppress their cravings. Amazed by the results of the medication, some alcoholics just stop following any regular dosage regime altogether. "I started with 10 milligrams per day. I reached a peak of 210 milligrams, did that for two days, and then went down to 90 milligrams," says Mia.

People in favor of using Baclofen to treat alcoholism have formed communities on the Internet and are lobbying hard for health authorities to begin allowing doctors to prescribe it freely. They have already won a first battle: starting at the end of the year, a clinical test will be conducted in France to evaluate its effect on alcoholism. Under the supervision of Philippe Jaury, professor in general medicine at the Université Paris Descartes, the drug will be administered to 300 humans. The first results should be available in 2013.

"That's too long," says Dr. Ameisen. "About 120 French people die from alcoholism every day."

Ameisen's colleagues in the French medical community have mixed feelings about the drug. Some agree that it should be legalized, if nothing else so that doctors can at least monitor the use of a medication patients are finding ways to obtain anyway. But others are steadfast in refusing to prescribe it, in part out of fear that they might open themselves up to possible malpractice suits, but also because Baclofen's use as an alcohol addiction treatment has simply not yet been studied enough. "We are in a delicate position," says Dr. Stéphanie Geiger- Boicot, addictionologist in the Quatre-Ville hospital in the city of Saint-Cloud. "If someone files a complaint, we are not protected."

In general, addictionologists tend to be suspicious of a pill that would so quickly eliminate any feeling of dependence. Especially since Baclofen, which patients take continuously, is not without side effects: drowsiness, dry mouth, cramps, sometimes depression. Dr. Michel Craplet, a psychiatrist and expert in alcohol addition, say the drug has a psychological downside as well. He describes alcoholics who self medicate with Baclofen "extremely lonely."

"They lived for a while with what they thought was a miracle drug: alcohol," he says. "Today they think that another miracle drug, Baclofen, will save them from their illness. One illusion replaces another."

Is Baclofen a mere illusion? Or a super-placebo? Or the first truly effective treatment for a timeless disease? The verdict in two years.

Read the original article in French

Photo - opethpainter

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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