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Parkinson's drug linked to compulsive behaviors

May 13, 2006 |

A recent study seems to suggest that a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease could be responsible for bizarre and compulsive behavioral changes in patients.

High-profile celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have put the spotlight on Parkinson’s disease.

But in addition, recent research has also shed light on the bizarre side effects of taking a drug called Mirapex used to treat the disease.

“We have seen compulsivity in the sexual area, patients who started to over-eat and gain a tremendous amount of weight, Dr. Richard Dewey said.

“We've seen compulsive spending and compulsive shopping.”

And compulsive gambling.

“I was all the way back to Longview before it occurred to me that I don't have $9,000 in the bank,” said Jacquie Rice, who lives in Longview, east of Dallas.

She was taking Mirapex for restless leg syndrome.

Rice said she gambled away nearly $200,000 before she realized what was happening and stopped taking Mirapex.

"I prayed real hard not to cry on this interview, but I have spent everything we have," Rice said.

A study conducted last year by the Mayo Clinic found 1 percent to 2 percent of participants experience behavioral changes while taking Mirapex.

“The whole problem is underrecognized, underpublicized,” Dewey said.

According to doctors, many patients are too embarrassed to say anything.

“Those are behaviors that people tend to hide, and they're also behaviors they don't connect with the medication,” said Dr. Alida Griffith, a movement disorder specialist.

In 2004, the Canadian company that makes Mirapex changed the packet of information that accompanies the drug to include wording about “compulsive behavior.”

But Rice and her husband say they should have been told about the side effects.

Now they are suing.

“I would like to get our money back,” Rice said. “I'm human. I'd really like to get our money back."

A move to give the lawsuits of Mirapex patients class action status was denied last year.

Many researchers agree that more definitive studies are needed to explore the possible connection between the drug and compulsive behavior.

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