Can Parkinson’s Drugs Cause Addictive Behavior?

By Paul Gaita 10/22/14

The class of Parkinson's drugs known as dopamine receptor agonists can potentially make users more susceptible to compulsive behaviors.

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A study published on the online journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that certain drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease may cause a host of impulse control behavior issues, from compulsive gambling to an obsessive interest in pornography and sex.

The medications are part of a class of drugs known as dopamine receptor agonists, which reproduce the effects of the brain chemical dopamine in patients with Parkinson’s and other conditions, including restless leg syndrome and hyperprolactinemia, that eliminate the chemical’s presence in their systems.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices, Harvard, and the University of Ottawa, examined 2.7 million reports of drug reactions submitted to a Food and Drug Administration database between 2003 and 2012. They uncovered approximately more than 1,500 reports that were identified by the researchers as involving “serious” impulse control issues, with nearly half linked directly to six different dopamine receptor agonist medications like Mirapex and Requip. Of these reports, 628 involved pathological gambling, 465 reported cases of hypersexuality, and 202 concerned compulsive shopping.

The study concluded that these side effects appear to cease after patients discontinue taking these medications, and that those patients who take a combination of carbidopa and levodopa drugs did not appear to experience these issues.

Taken as a whole, the number of cases involving behavioral changes while taking Parkinson’s medications is between 10% and 14%, though study author Thomas Moore of the Institute of Safe Medication Practices considers these numbers as a “striking example of a major problem in drug safety.” He added, “It’s an astronomical rate, in terms for drug adverse event risk. And frankly, I think I’m being conservative.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.