Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is planning an unusual experiment. Once enough participants can be found, it will test the efficacy of naloxone, a nasal spray developed to treat opiate overdoses, to deter people from gambling. Should the experiment prove successful, use of the spray can be expanded to treat other addictions as well.
A medical report from a few years ago found that 1.5 percent of Finns have a serious gambling problem. An additional 18 percent were identified as belonging to an at-risk group, be it slot machines or online gambling.
Naloxone, which was patented in the 1960s for emergency treatment of heroin and other drug overdoses, has been widely used to treat various addictions; however, the daring idea to use it as a deterrent from gambling has not been studied previously. Research professor with the THL Hannu Alho pointed out that previous research conducted using a naloxone pill seemed to be of help, reducing the urge, which spurred cautious optimism. Research over the past decades has indicated that the spray is safe for use, with no side effects and no addictive properties of its own.
"The urge to gamble is very impulsive. The need comes on very quickly. It could take up to an hour for a pill to work. This is how we got this idea to dilute the medicine in water and develop a nasal spray. We assume it will work quickly. We studied the response rate at the University of Turku, and yes, it did seem to work in the space of just a few minutes," Hannu Alho explained to national broadcaster Yle.
"If you want to play badly, you can use the spray and then the urge will go away. This is the hypothesis of our study," Alho explained, venturing that the medication may also have a long-term deterring effect.
The THL hopes to start the three-month trial as soon as enough volunteers who meet the requirements have signed up. All in all, there is room for 130 participants in the experiment. In addition to the medication, the participants will receive support and motivation.
The results of the study will only be available after at least a year and a half, and should they prove satisfactory, the scheme could be expanded to treat people with drinking problems.
In late 2017, Finland's state gambling monopoly Veikkaus pledged to reduce the detrimental impact of gambling by requiring users to identify themselves before using slot machines, after THL's assurances that authorization is an effective method of reducing the ill effects of gambling.
The reform, which will affect over 18,000 slot machines located in supermarkets, kiosks and gasoline stations, as well as roughly 130,000 people struggling with a gambling addiction, is estimated to cost up to €100 million.