The Nasal Spray That Could Cure Gambling Addiction

Researchers in Finland will trial an anti-overdose drug in an attempt to offer addicted gamblers a real-time antidote to curb the urge to gamble.

The treatment is usually given to opiate addicts and works by blocking the production of dopamine. The spray contains Naloxone – an emergency treatment for overdoses of heroin, opium and morphine – which begins to take affect in just a few minutes.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure. It is key to addiction, and therefore blocking production can curb cravings. Now, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), wants to study the effect of a fast-acting Naloxone nasal spray. Researchers has previously tested the use of the drug to treat problem gamblers in pill form, but found that the dose took an hour to kick in. The idea is that a nasal spray will provide a more immediate benefit.

Hannu Alho, professor of addiction medicine at the Helsinki-based THL, said that he was looking to enlist 130 problem gamblers to take part in a three-month study.

This is the first study of its kind globally to use nasal spray for gambling addiction Hannu Alho, professor of addiction medicine, THL

It’s the speed of the delivery method that is driving the use of a nasal spray. Alho said: “Gambling is a very impulsive behaviour … the need to gamble starts right away. For this reason, we are seeking a medication with a quick effect … the nasal spray acts in just a few minutes.”

An informational poster for the Narcan Nasal Spray, which contains naloxone

An informational poster for the Narcan Nasay Spray, which contains naloxone hydrochloride. ©Narcan

The drug has reached new levels of fame in recent years thanks to its role in reviving people who have overdosed on heroin, fentanyl or prescription painkillers. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of naloxone kits via a spray. The drug is now available to drug users via local pharmacies in America.

According to the UK Gambling Commission, around two million people in Britain are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction. The move is not the first time that treatments for hard drugs have been used to tackle gambling addictions. In both the UK and Australia, a Methadone-like drug called Naltrexone has also be trialed. Naltrexone is traditionally used as a heroin substitute for recovering addicts.

Finland is struggling with a growing gambling problem. Recent surveys concluded that 2.7% of the total population has gambling problem tendencies or is suffering from a gambling addiction. The Veikkaus state gambling monopoly recently announced plans that will include requiring slot machine players to authenticate their identities so that their activity can be monitored.

The study is scheduled to start at the end of this month, although results will not be published until 2019.

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