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Parkinson Drug Causes Gambling Addiction - Legal Actions Allege

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Mirapex, a drug sold for treatment of Parkinson's disease and taken by millions of people in the US has been cited in two separate legal actions as causing patients to inexplicably start gambling and even develop an addiction.

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Pfizer's Mirapex Faulted in Gambling Addiction Suits

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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  jschneider5@bloomberg.net.



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