victim finds hope in heroin users drug
|HELEN PUTTICK, Health
||April 12 2004
impact of multiple sclerosis destroyed the quality of Lorna
The mother, who has had the illness for
more than 10 years, said one household chore would leave her so
exhausted that she would have to rest, and cleaning her home in
Irvine took all week.
Sometimes she had to leave the
supermarket halfway through shopping, too ill to continue, and
trips to buy clothes with her teenage daughter Claire were
limited to one store.
"I also had problems with what
they call cognitive fatigue," she said. "If one of the
kids came home with a form about a school trip, to read it and
take it in would be very tiring
I would have to lie down and
relax and read it two or three times. It makes you feel so
On the worst days, Mrs McDevitt was
able to do nothing but rest.
The 47-year-old, whose father also had
MS, said she first read about a drug called Naltrexone
usually given to heroin addicts to block the effects of opiates
on the internet three years ago.
A New York doctor had experimented with
the drug in patients, including MS sufferers.
She decided to try the drug last April.
"The first thing I noticed, lying in bed, was that the
numbness in my back had improved," she said. Stiffness and
fatigue also began to fade and a particular milestone
she managed to complete her daughter's student loan forms, all
"This morning I have got up,
worked on my computer, cooked and tidied up," she said.
"In a short while we are going to go out. Prior to taking
low dose Naltrexone I could not do anything before late
It costs Mrs McDevitt £72 for a three
month supply of the drug, even though heroin addicts are able to
get it for free to help control their cravings.
The drug has not yet been licensed for
MS sufferers, forcing them to buy it privately.
In Scotland, which has one of the
highest rates of MS in the world, 45 patients are said to be
buying the drug through Dr Bob Lawrence, a Welsh GP, for about
£25 a month.
Dr Lawrence said he is supplying a
total of 400 patients with Naltrexone.
Although GPs are still free to
prescribe the drug on a "named patient basis", it is
understood the doctor can be held responsible for adverse side
Dr Lawrence said the dosage of
Naltrexone taken by MS patients was so small that it had no
"significant toxicity at all".
He said that once doctors saw the
benefit their patients experienced on Naltrexone, they would be
more inclined to prescribe it again.
He added: "It would be almost
impossible to get the NHS to voluntarily accept this method en
masse without demonstrable and absolute proof of its
"This means an expensive
time-consuming trial that no-one seems prepared to do."
Mrs McDevitt along with other patients
has launched a petition campaigning for urgent trials. The
on-line petition has already received more than 2000 signatures.
is given to opiate addicts to block the pleasurable effects of
heroin and similar drugs.
works by blocking receptors in the brain which allow the drug to
enter cells and take effect.
Naltrexone also blocks the reception of chemicals produced by
the body called endorphins, which have a role in controlling the
low dose of Naltrexone blocks the receptors enough for the body
to think not enough endorphins are being produced, and so it
MS the immune system is malfunctioning and attacking the body.
An additional boost to the regulation of the immune system could
potentially have beneficial effects. The additional endorphins
are also linked to a reduction in pain and a greater sense of
MS patients who have taken the drug say it stops the disease
progressing and improves some of their symptoms.
a positive beneficial response is not guaranteed with the
treatment and there is the possibility of side effects.