Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

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February 23, 2006

Mirapex: Alzheimer's Drug Causes Gambling Addiction

Gambling is an addiction, a form of insanity, when the urge becomes overwhelming and we can't control ourselves. We may end up spending money we actually needed for buying food or paying the rent and sending the kids to school. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the occasional game, as part of a social get-together, even if we play for money. But when the urge becomes a compulsion and we spend entire days without being unable to unhook ourselves, alarm bells should go off.


Las Vegas - Photo credit: Phil Landowski

Can pharmaceutical drugs stimulate the gambler in us? Apparently yes. Mirapex, an Alzheimer's drug, has been linked to the gambling habit in people who were "straight" before and became unable to stay away from slot machines or gambling tables once they had filled their prescription.

Question: Should such side effects not be cause for concern - for removing the drug from the market and finding better ways to prevent Alzheimer's?

Here is an article by Evelyn Pringle who describes what happened to two of the victims.

- - -

Mirapex - Two Victims - Same Horror Story
by Evelyn Pringle

(original on

In mid-2001, Joe Neglia went on a cruise to Alaska and that trip marked the beginning of his downward spiral into hell. The ship had a gambling casino on board and according to Joe, he was "instantly and savagely hooked on the slots."

A major problem arose when he came back ashore. "When I returned from the cruise I began hitting the local casinos," he recalls, "there were three within 25 minutes from my home."

"I hit them every day," he said, "frequently all day for two full years."

The daily gambling binges continued for two full years because that's how long it took for Joe to find out that, Mirapex, the drug he had been taking for Parkinson's disease, had turned him into a compulsive gambler.

Jim Sweet recounts a similar version of basically the same tragic tale. He began taking Mirapex in December of 1998.

"A couple of months later I found myself on my computer a lot," he says, "bidding in auctions on stuff that I didn't need."

Next Jim then turned to gambling online, "running up thousands of dollars in credit card debt."

Like Joe Neglia, Jim never had a gambling problem before taking Mirapex.

As the dosage of the drug was increased, Jim's compulsive behavior increased. Over time, he reveals, "the gambling addiction escalated to include casinos, race track betting, lottery, and more online betting."

"I went through a living hell for over three years while on Mirapex, with a drug induced gambling addiction," he recalls.

For those unfamiliar with this controversy, as remarkable as it may seem, recent studies have shown that Mirapex is indeed the culprit here. On February 15, 2006, United Press International, reported: "Parkinson's disease patients who take anti-tremor drugs are at greater risk of becoming pathological gamblers," based on a study by Duke University and three FDA scientists. The study is discussed in the February 2006, Archives of Neurology.

The patients were drawn from an FDA database of more than 2.5 million adverse drug reports dating back to 1968. The analysis of adverse effects found that the strongest association of gambling was with Mirapex. Five other anti-tremor drugs also showed elevated risks but Mirapex accounted for 58% of the reports.

The study is the second in less than a year to link Mirapex to compulsive gambling and the latest findings are consistent with earlier research conducted over the past several years.

In July 2005, a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic, was published in the Archives of Neurology, and identified 11 Parkinson's patients who developed a compulsive gambling problem while taking Mirapex or similar drugs between 2002 and 2004. Since the study was published, 14 additional patients have been identified with the problem, said Mayo psychiatrist, Dr M Leann Dodd, the lead author of the study.

Although a few patients took similar drugs, Dr Dodd said most of the gamblers were on Mirapex. They included a 68-year-old patient who gambled at casinos and lost more than $200,000 over 6 months, a patient who lost more than $60,000, and a 41-year-old computer programmer who took up gambling on the internet, and lost about $5,000 in a few months. All of the patients stopped gambling within a short time after treatment with the drug was discontinued.

According to Dr Dodd, Mayo Clinic doctors now ask patients on the drugs whether they have taken up gambling. Those patients who have are switched to different drugs or doses, and the result is often dramatic, "like a light switch being turned off when they stopped the drug," Dr Dodd told the Associated Press on July 12, 2005.

Two of the patients who were switched to another drug required additional psychiatric treatment to quit gambling and one patient who withdrew from the program committed suicide after a relapse into gambling.

The study above, means that 1 out of the 11 patients committed suicide due to this problem, but according to Joe, "Most of the reporting on this situation has missed the real story."

"There have been many suicide attempts," he reports, "with God only knows how many of them successful."

"There have been countless bankruptcies, lost businesses, ruined professional careers, emptied retirement accounts," Joe says.

The gambling has devastating effects on families. "There has been a horrible toll in wrecked marriages, personal trust and relationships, and familial estrangement caused by this drug," he reports.

And Joe would know. He was a highly respected government employee trusted to work on intelligence-related issues for 25 years before he retired in 1999.

"I held an extremely responsible position, with a Top Secret clearance, at the Defense Department," Joe recounts, "and this drug turned me into a lying, thieving, duplicitous lout for two full years."

The FDA and drug makers have known about the gambling side effect for years. In the August 2003 issue of Neurology, Dr E Driver-Dunckley, Dr J Samanta, and Dr M Stacey published the results of a study in an article entitled “Pathological gambling associated with dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease.”

That study found extreme cases of compulsive gambling in nine out of 1,884 patients, with 8 using Mirapex and one patient on the drug pergolide, another dopamine agonist drug.

In addition to Parkinson's disease, Mirapex is also prescribed for a condition known as "restless leg syndrome." Dr Jay Van Gerpen, a neurologist and movement disorder specialist from Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, told Healthday Reporter at the time, that he wasn't surprised by this study's findings.

"Medicines for Parkinson's disease may elicit unwanted side effects relating to mood and personality," says Van Gerpen. "These medicines are extremely useful, but they may produce unwanted effects. Dopamine agonists can be associated with changes in personality, such as sexual inappropriateness, and changes in sleep cycles. Patients need to be aware of these possibilities," according to Healthday on August 11, 2003.

In August of 2003, the Stacy report hit the news and may have saved Joe Neglia's life. As soon as he learned the cause of his problem, he immediately stopped taking Mirapex and amazingly he stopped gambling within one week.

"I tried to lower the dose," Joe explained, "but the gambling restarted." Next he switched to a different dopamine agonist drug but the gambling started again.

In late February of 2004, he quit all dopamine agonists entirely, and has not gambled one red cent in nearly two years. "There is simply no compulsion to gamble anymore," he says.

"Only upon stopping the drug," Joe says, "did I return to my old, responsible self."

The gambling problem that developed out of nowhere always seemed bizarre to Joe, because from 1977-1980, he was on assignment in England and had easy access to all forms of gambling, including slot machines, and gambling seldom entered his mind.

"I probably gambled all of $20 over the three years I was there," he notes.

Despite studies reporting on this situation from 1999 onward, Joe says the drug makers sit on the sidelines and claim there is no link between the drug and compulsive behavior.

"Their favorite tactic," he reports, "has been to blame Parkinson's disease for this behavior, claiming it's not the drug itself."

"That's baloney," Joe says, "there have been countless cases demonstrating that when use of the drug is stopped, the behavior stops, end of story."

If anything, Joe says the problem is underreported, "because of the embarrassment factor."

Boehringer did revise the warning on the Mirapex package insert in 2005 to include compulsive behavior as a potential side effects claiming it has received "rare" reports since the drug was approved for use by the FDA in 1997.

However, in response to the latest study, the drug maker told UPI, "it was investigating the relationship "if any" between its drug and users developing compulsive behaviors."

Mirapex is one the top-selling Parkinson's drugs. The product had annual sales of approximately $244 million for the twelve months that ended in July 2005, according to sales data from IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information and consulting firm.

How much money did Joe lose? He would rather not dwell on that point. "Lets just say I lost a lot of money," he says. "I am solvent again, but way behind of where I was pre-Mirapex," he adds.

This is where Jim Sweet's story varies a bit from Joe's. After gambling took over Jim's life, he ended up living out of his car most of the time, because he couldn't be trusted at home. "I would pawn any thing of value," Jim reports.

"I was like a drug addict trying to find my next fix," he says. "I didn't want to gamble, I needed to gamble," he adds.

He tried to stop by going to Gamblers Anonymous and counseling and even checked into psychiatric hospitals, but nothing helped.

Finally, at the end of his rope, in the fall of 2002, Jim spoke to a psychiatrist who was obviously familiar with the problem, because he told Jim he suspected a drug induced addiction caused by the Mirapex.

"He took me off the drug," Jim recalls, "and after the drug was out of my system, I stopped gambling."

Just like that, Jim's urge to gamble was gone and he could think straight again.

"It was like a weight being lifted off my brain," Jim says, "I was myself again, able to relax, read a book, watch a movie, and spend time with my family."

Jim lost over three years of his life to Mirapex, and so did his family. "It is only by God's grace that I am here today," he says, "alive with my wife and kids by my side."

In December 2004, Jim and his wife, Kris, got to tell part of their story on Good Morning America. "Right after that airing," Jim says, "Pfizer and BI put out a warning on their product literature, although they buried it on page 17," he adds.

Since getting their own lives in order, Jim and Kris have communicated with hundreds of other people who have gone through the same horrible nightmare.

"I have made it my mission to get the word out and help those that are still in the dark about these devastating side effects of Mirapex," Jim says.

"Now, the drug companies need to make things right by compensating those of us that have suffered so much," he says, "and by putting out warnings of the clear and present dangers of the potential compulsive behavior that Mirapex can cause."

Joe and Jim are both suing the drug makers for failing to adequately warn patients about the gambling side effects.

Injured parties seeking justice can find more information at: Lawyers and Settlements

By Evelyn Pringle

- - - - - - -

An earlier story was reported in Bloomberg as follows:

Pfizer's Mirapex Faulted in Gambling Addiction Suits

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Pfizer Inc. and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. were accused of distributing a drug for treating Parkinson's disease that turned some people into gambling addicts, in a lawsuit filed in Ontario Superior Court.

The Canadian suit follows a similar complaint filed in September in federal court in the Central District of California.

Several million U.S. residents take Mirapex for Parkinson's and other conditions, said attorney Daniel Kodam, who filed the California case. Mirapex, distributed in the U.S. by both companies and in Canada by a Boehringer unit, mimics the action of dopamine in the brain, he said. Lack of dopamine can lead to tremors and rigidity, he said. About 2.5 percent of Mirapex users develop a gambling addiction, Kodam said.

"These people have no history of gambling," said Darcy Merkur, a lawyer with Thomson, Rogers, who filed the Canadian suit Friday. "They don't have a propensity to gamble."

Both the Canadian and U.S. suits are seeking class action status. Bryant Haskins, a spokesman for New York-based Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, didn't have an immediate comment. He said the company was coordinating a joint response with Boehringer.

Ingelheim, Germany-based Boehringer, the world's biggest family-owned drug company, didn't respond to calls seeking comment.

Gambling Link

According to a study published in the Aug. 12, 2003, issue of "Neurology," researchers concluded that high doses of some medications used to treat Parkinson's, including Mirapex, might lead to a gambling addition among some patients.

Researchers at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Research Center in Phoenix examined data of almost 2,000 Parkinson's patients over the course of a year. Nine of the patients were diagnosed as pathological gamblers, and seven of them had started gambling within a month of an increase in the dosage of Mirapex or another Parkinson's drug they were taking.

Two patients lost more than $60,000, and none of them had a problem before taking the drugs, according to the study.

Gerard Schick, a resident of Midland, Ontario, a city north of Toronto and near a government-approved Indian casino, lost about C$100,000 ($80,757) playing slot machines while taking Mirapex, Merkur said. Other Mirapex users who have come forward claimed to have lost as much as C$750,000, he said.

Pain and Suffering

Merkur is seeking C$50 million in punitive damages, plus an unspecified amount to cover the actual gambling losses incurred. He's also seeking C$3 million per person for pain and suffering, emotional hardship, and loss of earnings. Merkur said he expects more than 100 Canadians will be represented in the suit.

In the California case, Kodam said he will meet with attorneys for the two companies prior to a scheduled June 23 hearing to amend the complaint and convert it to a class action.

The Canadian case is Between Gerard Schick and Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd., No. 05CV288851 CP, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Toronto.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Joe Schneider in Toronto at

See also:

Parkinson's drug can trigger gambling
Tuesday, 12 August 2003
Medication given to Parkinson's patients may have an unexpected and startling side-effect: compulsive gambling, U.S. researchers have found. An unusually large number of patients taking Mirapex gambled themselves into debt, while patients taking other drugs did not, the team at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Centre at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, have reported.

Drugs that relieve Parkinson's symptoms may also trigger odd urges: jet skiing up the coast, collecting toys or gambling compulsively

Drugs to warn of sleep dangers
Ambien and other popular sleep aids will now carry warnings about risks of "complex behaviors" such as driving or preparing food when not fully awake and potentially lethal allergic reactions, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday. Makers of the 13 affected drugs will begin sending letters to doctors this week to alert them to these risks ...

Do Parkinson's drugs create obsessions?
At a meeting in Toronto last month, Stacy and other experts reviewed the cases reported so far and concluded that the drugs appear to trigger a syndrome of bad behavior that includes compulsive gambling, shopping, binge eating and an unstoppable urge for sex. "Fifteen percent of all Parkinson's patients might have this syndrome," Stacy says. If he's right, that could mean as many as 150,000 people in the USA are struggling with out-of-control behavior. Even those numbers may underestimate the problem.

July 2008: Mirapex, A Lawsuit & Restless Gambling Syndrome
A former Wall Street banker who claims he lost $3 million from compulsive gambling caused by the popular drug, which is used to treat Restless Leg Syndrome and Parkinson's disease, is suing Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim for losses he accumulated while taking the pill, Reuters reports.

Compulsive Gambler Wins Lawsuit Over Mirapex
A federal jury yesterday awarded $8.2 million to a plaintiff who claims that the Parkinson's disease drug Mirapex caused him to gamble compulsively.

Gary Charbonneau says he was prescribed Mirapex in December 1997 to treat his Parkinson's disease and stopped taking it in November 2005. He claims the drug caused him to become a compulsive gambler from March 2002 to February 2006, during which time he lost more than $260,000. And he aruged that Mirapex causes compulsive gambling and that the defendants knew of the side effect but did not conduct studies or warn doctors or patients.


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Thursday February 23 2006
updated on Wednesday December 8 2010

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

We know -- from Vioxx, Paxil and other incidents -- that drug companies often upsell benefits and downplay negatives. Because they've got money at stake, patients' trust in what drug companies promise has been eroded. Check out the latest in a long string of examples of companies downplaying potentially deadly side effects from prescription drugs and medical devices:

Posted by: Amanda on February 24, 2006 07:38 PM


All I know is that this happened to one of my close friends. She was a regular churchgoing lady who wound up losing everything she had by going to Vegas all the time. When I went online and tried to figure it out, I noticed that there are a ton of websites that say there is a correllation between mirapex and gambling. I'm not really a fan of the lawsuits, but there is definitely something there when it comes to compulsive behavior and mirapex.

Posted by: Meccashat on April 12, 2006 01:01 AM


I have been taking mirapex for six months. I didn't know of any of the side effects except sudden sleep.
I didn't realize my new urge to masturbate 3 or 4 times a day could be related. Is this common?

Posted by: Laurie on September 7, 2007 03:04 PM


I've read many cases of people being financially wiped out from gambling and spending while taking Mirapex, and families broken up. I'm interested in hearing about recovery - how those who suffered great financial and personal losses are putting their lives back together.

Posted by: somewhat anonymous on September 26, 2007 05:16 PM


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These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes. Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice before utilizing any of the information to cure or mitigate disease. Any copyrighted material cited is used strictly in a non commercial way and in accordance with the "fair use" doctrine.



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