Substance.com

Get involved in the conversation.

Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

Aussies Win Payout from Pfizer for Drug Linked to Gambling, Sex Addiction


The drug giant agreed to a settlement in a class action case filed by 160 people who claim a Pfizer drug caused them to develop gambling or sex compulsions.

7 Substance
Score


Pat Galea, who suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome, was part of the class action against drug company Pfizer. Photo via

Pat Galea, who suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome, was part of the class action against drug company Pfizer. Photo via

Big Pharma is always getting sued by people who suffer from side effects caused by their drugs, but it is rare that the side effect in question is addiction. This week, drug giant Pfizer agreed to a settlement in an Australian class action case filed in 2008 by 160 people who claim a Pfizer drug caused them to develop gambling or sex compulsions that wreaked havoc on their lives.

Capergoline (Aussie brand name: Cabaser) is prescribed to help calm the tremors caused by Parkinson’s Disease and Restless Leg Syndrome, neurological disorders caused in part by insufficient dopamine levels. The drug works by triggering dopamine receptors to increase transmission of the brain chemical. But in some people, the drug produces a flood of dopamine—similar to how a substance like cocaine works—that results in a loss of impulse control and in compulsive behaviors, including gambling addiction, hypersexuality, binge eating, compulsive shopping and other behaviors.

In a 2010 Mayo Clinic study, one out of three people on a high dose of capergoline or other dopamine agonists experienced one of these disorders. When they stop taking the drug, the disorder stopped.

Few side effects can be as bizarre as a sudden case of addiction. The Australian daily, the Age, profiled one of the 160 people who filed the suit: 65-year-old Pat Galea, who reportedly lost about $700,000 on poker machines after taking Permax and Cabaser for about a decade for restless legs syndrome.

“I’d go any spare moment I was not working. If it was payday I’d put most of it through and then realize I’ve got bills and rent and petrol to pay. As soon as I had any money it was gone,” Galea said.

After separating from her husband, she says she gambled away half the proceeds from the sale of their house, also selling her car to pay for her addiction. When evidence emerged about the drug’s potential side effects, Galea stopped taking them, and says her urge to gamble ceased.

By agreeing to a settlement Pfizer avoids the risk of further bad publicity and a possible guilty judgment on charges of fundamental failures to research the side effects of their drug, to identify signals in the research they did do, to provide adequate warnings on their drug label and to yank the drug from the market when alerted to the risks. If the judge approves the settlement, Pfizer will pony up a compensation payout likely to be in the high seven-digits—chump change in Big Pharma accounting.

As for Galea, “she has since reunited with her husband and enjoys time with her three adult children and four grandchildren. Asked whether the settlement came close to repaying what was lost, she laughed.”