Has this man really cured addiction?
OLIVIER Ameisen (below) was a '90s high-flier: a handsome cardiologist with a Manhattan practice, a talented musician from a wealthy family. He had everything going for him. Except for one thing -- he was a roaring drunk.
Ameisen says he's now sober. And he claims to have found a cure for alcoholism. In his book, The End of My Addiction, Ameisen details how large doses of the muscle relaxant baclofen made him utterly indifferent to alcohol. Now he's as relaxed as a cat, without the jiggy, frantic anxiety of the addict. And drink-free.
Why aren't the world's scientists leaping to test baclofen's efficacy? Ameisen claims it's because the drug has been out of patent for years. There's no profit in it for the big drug companies that usually run those studies, he says.
The odd thing is that addicts are following him on to baclofen, spreading the 'cure' by word of mouth.
Ameisen was certainly a hard case. He was used to the routine: checking the mirror to make sure his eyes were not yellowing from liver damage; coming down from binges with the help of valium; sitting in AA meetings shaking with craving.
After years of binges and rehab he was plunging into hell. His friends were torn; his bereft mother -- an Auschwitz survivor -- muttered: "Jews aren't schickers."
By 2000, he had run back home to Paris. A girlfriend sent him an article about a University of Pennsylvania researcher studying baclofen's effect on an addict's craving for cocaine.
A year later Ameisen sobered up and remembered the article. In 15 months he had broken his wrist, shoulder, nose and three ribs. He was terrified of breaking his back and winding up paraplegic.
He got a doctor to prescribe baclofen -- after checking with a top neurologist that it was safe. "You have to take it gradually," the neurologist warned. "If you decide to stop, you have to taper off gradually."
The first thing Ameisen noticed: he went into a music shop and came out with no purchases. He had never realised that he was a compulsive shopper.
He upped his dose -- and found baclofen controlled his anxiety better than tranquillisers. He topped 180 milligrams -- and wrote the dose on the back of his ID card, for fear he might fall during a binge -- so any hospital would know to taper off his dosage.
He upped the dose again, to a massive 270mg and found, 37 days into the experiment, that he had no craving for alcohol. After 63 days, he levelled off at 120mg, adding more if he was stressed.
By 2004, he had no interest in drinking. Now he tested the effect. He drank two gins -- and couldn't finish the third.
Heavy drinking brought the craving back, but more baclofen sent it away. It seemed he was cured. And still is, he says.
Is it true? Could it be real? Only time -- and large scientific studies, if they are ever done -- will give the answer.