New Treatment for Cocaine Dependence FoundPosted 05/25/06
Researchers from the University of Virginia Health System have found that ondansetron, a serotonin antagonist drug, reduced cocaine’s reinforcing effects in people who volunteered to be part of the study. These findings are the first to show the value of ondansetron in battling cocaine and its addictive qualities.
Most cocaine users find it very difficult to quit. Despite almost two decades of scientific effort, no medication has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of cocaine dependence. Cocaine users have high relapse rates under the currently available behavioral and psychosocial interventions.
“These preliminary findings suggest that ondansetron, in combination with behavioral therapy, may offer a new alternative for treating cocaine addiction,” says Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health.
Prof. Bankole Johnson and colleagues from the UVa Department of Psychiatric Medicine collected data from 63 cocaine-dependent men and women who were seeking treatment for this study, recently published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In the study, participants received a placebo or one of three dosages of ondansetron, twice daily. Cognitive behavioral therapy also was provided each week. "We are encouraged by the results of this study, which show a promising role for ondansetron in the effort to find new, effective treatment for cocaine dependence," Prof. Johnson said.
Individuals treated with the highest dose of ondansetron (4 mg) had the lowest dropout rates and a greater rate of improvement in percentage of participants with a cocaine-free week as compared with the placebo group. The results of this study suggest that ondansetron may be beneficial in reducing cocaine’s reinforcing effects, which in turn may help cocaine users to quit. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It was a collaborative project between the clinical trials branch within NIDA's Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where Prof. Dr. Johnson began his research and served as deputy chairman for research and a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology.
Cocaine dependence and its psychiatric, social, and economic consequences add up to a major public health problem in the United States, and a pharmaceutical treatment would be a boon for cocaine users trying to quit. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 5.7 million people (2.4% of the U.S. population) had used cocaine in the past year and 2.0 million (0.8%) had used cocaine within the past month.