Compulsive Gambling, Shopping, Sex: The Weird Side Effects of Parkinson’s Drugs



This sounds like something straight out of The Onion, but I promise you, it’s not. Two drugs commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s disease have been linked to some startling side effects, according to a report on NPR.

The drugs, both belonging to a category known as dopamine agonists, can set off dangerous, compulsive bouts of gambling, shopping and sex. And the problem is serious enough that researchers are asking the FDA to require its stringent black-box warning on the drugs. While the association between these risky behaviors and the drugs had occasionally been noted in the past, it wasn’t until researchers combed through almost a decade of drug-reaction reports submitted to the FDA that the scope of the problem came to light. (As two Johns Hopkins doctors wrote in a commentary on the research in JAMA Internal Medicine, “During an office visit, a patient is unlikely to spontaneously mention, ‘By the way, doctor I lost $250,000 in casinos last week’ or ‘I spend all night on Internet pornography sites and am soliciting prostitutes.’”)

Doctors have had patients who never gambled lose their houses because of gambling debts, as well as some who engage in sex with prostitutes and become addicted to porn. One elderly woman bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of lottery tickets every week. The behaviors disappear when the drugs are stopped. The side effects are said to resemble—and be chemically akin to—the manic cycle of bipolar disease. The drugs in question are also prescribed for restless-leg syndrome and a hormonal condition that can cause lactation.

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