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A Popular Prescription Connected to Compulsive Behavior

Jul 13, 2006 | First Coast News

A local man blames his medication for gambling away $500,000 and losing his family.

“I just felt like I was in a fast car all the time just trying to get somewhere and I didn't really have no place to be," said Jackie Mills.

Mills, 41, is a veteran of two wars. As a Marine, he fought for his country in the Persian Gulf. Six years ago, he waged a war with a debilitating disease.

"I had loss of my right arm. I had difficulty standing for long hours. I'd get dizzy. I was always sleepy," said Mills.

The car salesman, husband and father of two was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at just 35.

But doctors told him there was hope in a new drug called Mirapex.

"The doctors at the VA recommended that I use Mirapex because it was a new and updated drug and it was more for my age," said Mills.

In the beginning, Mills says he took Mirapex as prescribed by his doctor, a half milligram every two hours. His dizziness stopped. His tremors became less obvious. The disease was manageable.

"I said, 'hey this is what I need.' It gets me out there, it gets me going everyday," said Mills.

For the first 18 months, Mirapex had allowed him to live an near, normal life. But in 2002, there was a problem.

"I couldn't do things in moderation, everything had to be all the time," said Mills.

Mills says things he had once done sparingly became obsessions. An occasional fishing trip turned into fishing everyday. If there was a kareoke machine at a bar, he had to sing all his favorite songs.

One afternoon, Mills tried something he'd never done before. He gambled at a casino. Twenty dollars turned into $200 and he was hooked.

"I'd go with $100 and come back with nothing. Then the next time, I'd go with $500 and come back with nothing,” said Mills. There was times I'd take $5,000 to the casino in one day and it'd all be gone. At one point, I was at the casino everyday," he added.

At first, the gambling was a secret. But in a-year-and-half, his family was flat broke. Mills estimates he gambled and lost more than $500,000.

"Eventually, it got to the point where I had to sell my home, I lost my cars and it just got worse and worse," said Mills.

Before he developed Parkinson’s, Mills had never seen the inside of a cop car. But in a matter of months he was arrested three times for disturbing the peace and assault.

“I started losing friends, I lost my family, my mom, my brothers and sisters," said Mills.

Then he read a 2005 newspaper article. People from across the country told stories of compulsive eating, hypersexuality, daily shopping sprees and gambling addiction.

They were all Parkinson’s patients who had been prescribed drugs like Mirapex.

"Eighty percent of Parkinson’s Disease patients have probably at one point in their treatment been treated with these drugs," said Mayo Clinic Neurologist Dr. Zbigniew Wszolek.

Dr. Wszolek studied 1,411 patients. Six developed compulsive behavior. But Dr. Wszolek says the behavior is usually dramatic.

"Sometimes, reduction of the dose is sufficient. Sometimes, changing to another dopamine agonist can be helpful," said Dr. Wszolek.

"I went into the VA hospital and I said, 'y'all got to help me. I need to get off this medication,'" said Mills.

He stayed at the VA hospital in Gainesville for three days. Three weeks later, Mirapex was out of his life and so was the gambling.

"Completely gone probably two weeks after I was completely off the medication,” said Mills. "I have had no desire since then to gamble or anything," he added.

Mills is now prescribed Tasmar. In early 2006, he also underwent deep brain stimulation therapy.

All that's left from those years are bills, bad memories and 529 pages of medical records. They detail rampage and pain. Mills remembers some of it. Some of it he's reading about for the first time.

Mills has filed a law suit against the manufacturer of the Mirapex, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. The company will not speak about the details of the suit, but in a statement to First Coast News the company writes:

“In 2004, we updated our U.S. prescribing information with new wording to inform health care professionals that we had received reports of compulsive behavior associated with Mirapex."

“Currently, we are working with some of the nation's leading medical experts to investigate the relationship, if any, between this class of medications and compulsive behavior."

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