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Parkinson's Treatment Named In Class Action Lawsuit

Jun 14, 2005 | Knight Ridder Newspapers

Gerry Schick never knew taking his Parkinson's medications would be a gamble.

Schick, who lives in Midland, Canada, said he took the prescription drug Mirapex to ease the uncontrollable tremors he suffered. The medicine reduced the involuntary movements, but Schick said it made him a compulsive gambler.

Before he took Mirapex, Schick said, he gambled only occasionally and might spend $10 to $40 on a visit to a casino or racetrack. But once he started taking Mirapex in 1999, he said, he couldn't stop.

"I lost over $100,000," the Ontario resident said. "I have written testimony from my doctor saying that Mirapex caused it."

And he's not alone.

At least 230 North Americans have contacted lawyers in California and Ontario about joining class actions that allege Mirapex caused them to gamble, have sex, shop and eat compulsively.

"Gambling, shopping, sexual and eating, those are the biggest four, but there's a slew of other ones," said a California lawyer, about the compulsive behaviors reported.

The attorney represents plaintiffs in a U.S. lawsuit against the drug companies Pfizer Inc. in New York and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Ingelheim, Germany.

"People have become compulsive about knitting and painting their homes. We have people who have painted their homes 10 or 15 times over in the course of two months. And these are people with no history of this type of behavior."

Pfizer referred requests for comment to Boehringer Ingelheim. The second company did not make officials available for comment on Tuesday. Boehringer Ingelheim manufactures Mirapex. It contracted with Pfizer to market the drug.

A Toronto law firm launched a class action in Canada last month with Schick as the lead plaintiff. Schick stopped taking Mirapex in January when he learned about the possible connection between his gambling and the medication.

The U.S. lawsuit is a multiplaintiff lawsuit filed in federal district court in California.

The lawsuits seek compensation for the plaintiffs' losses and punitive damages. They also want the drug companies to warn doctors and patients about the possibility of "the significant and substantial side effects" of compulsive behavior that may accompany the use of Mirapex.

Until this year, the drug companies didn't warn patients that compulsive behaviors were possible side effects of Mirapex.

Boehringer Ingelheim now lists "compulsive behaviors (including sexual and pathological gambling)" as a possible side effect associated with taking Mirapex.

So far, one attorney, he has heard from two Michigan residents who complained that Mirapex caused them to develop compulsive behaviors. But whether a judge will allow the Michigan residents to be included in the case is unknown.

Michigan is the only state that bars its residents from filing product liability lawsuits against drug companies once the Food and Drug Administration approves the products, said, a personal injury lawyer in Lansing, Mich. So it's unclear whether judges elsewhere will allow Michigan residents to participate in a national class action.

In February, a New York federal judge dismissed 187 Michigan residents from a class action against the maker of the diabetes drug Rezulin because of the state law. Rezulin, made by Warner-Lambert, was pulled off the market in 2000 after it was linked to nearly 400 deaths and thousands of cases of liver failure.

But recently a New Jersey state judge ruled that Michigan residents could pursue legal actions there against the makers of Vioxx but on an individual basis.

Merck & Co., based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after its own studies indicated it might have caused heart attacks or cardiac deaths in up to 139,000 Americans.

A 2003 report in the journal Neurology detailed the work of scientists at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center in Arizona. They surveyed 1,800 Parkinson's patients over one year and found that of the 529 patients in the study who took Mirapex, eight developed gambling addictions.

Scientists believe Parkinson's disease is caused by a lack of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is necessary for smooth, controlled movements of muscles and is produced by cells in the brain normally.

Mirapex, one of a class of drugs known as dopamine agonists, works by mimicking the action of dopamine in the brain to help control the movement of muscles.

Dopamine also affects brain processes that control emotional responses and a person's ability to experience pleasure and pain, and it is thought to play a role in addiction.

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