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Sydney researchers develop pill that could help to cure drug and alcohol addiction

An Australian discovery that aims to cure drug and alcohol addiction will be tested in humans in a few years.

The pill called SOC-1 mimics the behaviour of the hormone oxytocin which is known to promote bonding and social interaction.

University of Sydney researchers have spent more than a decade developing the SOC-1 molecule which was created to overcome the challenges of using tablet or spray forms of oxytocin.

“Oxytocin itself is really far from an ideal therapeutic compound. It can’t be taken in pill form because it just gets broken down by enzymes in the gut,” Dr Michael Bowen from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre told 9NEWS.

“Even when it’s administered through other routes like in a nasal spray, it can’t get into the brain in very high concentrations at all.”

So far in mice studies, the molecule has proved to be a powerful new treatment for substance use disorder.

“SOC-1 has more than halved consumption of alcohol down to levels that are not intoxicating. It has led to a nearly 90 percent reduction in the motivation to consume cocaine and a greater than 85 percent reduction in methamphetamine consumption,” Dr Bowen said.

He said in other experiments, SOC-1 was shown to completely block methamphetamine relapse.

“We’re hoping that will translate into the clinic,” Dr Bowen.

Their pre-clinical studies also showed the compound promotes positive social interactions.

“In fact, we actually think that one of the ways SOC-1 might be working is by shifting focus away from seeking out and consuming addictive substances and instead onto seeking out the positive social interactions that we know are really critical for long-term recovery,” Dr Bowen said.

Patient safety trials are expected to start in a few years, through a spin-off company Kinoxis Therapeutics.

While there are medications available to treat heroin addiction, such as Methadone and Buprenorphine, there is nothing similar for methamphetamine withdrawal or dependence.

Jason, 24, from Queensland battled his five-year ice addiction by going cold turkey.

But he said it wasn’t easy.

“I was just lucky that I had support of people around me to be able to come off it cold turkey, some people don’t,” he said.

“It’s such an epidemic.

“The rehabs are full of people who have meth problems. The times that I tried to get help, the waiting lists are ridiculous.”

Jason is looking forward to the day there is a pill that can be prescribed by a GP or available over the counter to help beat addiction.

Oydssey House, which runs rehabilitation programs in NSW and Victoria, says that a proven medication may be a beneficial adjunct to holistic treatment.

“Medications on their own are not usually sufficient,” Caroline Long, Service Development Manager at Odyssey House Victoria, said.

“We think we get the best outcome for clients when there’s a tailored approach for the individual.”

She said there are rehabilitation services that are available for free, including day programs and counselling.

Meanwhile, Dr Bowen is looking forward to the day their discovery is used to save lives.

“The World Health Organisation attributes a whopping 15 percent of all deaths worldwide each year to harmful use of addictive substances,” he said.

“That’s an enormous number of people dying, yet there’s not a tremendous amount of work going on to develop novel therapeutics to treat substance use disorders.”

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