Quiet Your Legs, Gamble Your Lifesavings, New Drugs Do All This and More

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A study from the Mayo Clinic says that a class of drugs used to treat restless leg syndrome has the bizarre side effect of turning regular folks into compulsive gamblers. (… note to Karl Rove: GWB’s excuse?…) The modern world is strange, but no stranger than this: peddling a new drug for a syndrome no one’s ever heard of and then creating a solution far worse than the problem.

Compulsive gambling with extreme losses — in two cases, greater than $100,000 — by people without a prior history of gambling problems has been linked to a class of drugs commonly used to treat the neurological disorder restless legs syndrome (RLS). A new Mayo Clinic study is the first to describe this compulsive gambling in RLS patients who are being treated with medications that stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain.

One patient, a woman seen in the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, had a five-year history of regular nighttime creeping-crawling sensations in her legs, accompanied by the strong urge to move her legs. Two and a half years prior to her Mayo Clinic visit, she had been diagnosed with RLS and treatment with pramipexole was begun.

Her symptoms improved, however, a problematic behavior developed soon after she started taking the medication. She developed an uncontrollable urge to gamble when visiting the nearby casino. As the dose increased, her gambling compulsion grew stronger. The transition of her therapy to another dopamine agonist, ropinirole, further increased her compulsion to gamble. Prior to her treatment for RLS, she had no history of gambling and viewed gamblers as “unfortunate individuals,” the authors report. The patient lost more than $140,000 from gambling.

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