Nevadans’ lawsuit says drug triggers compulsive gambling

Updated March 7, 2018 - 6:06 pm

Five Northern Nevadans are suing the manufacturers and distributors of prescription anti-psychotic medication Abilify, claiming the companies didn’t adequately warn patients that the drug could cause compulsive behavior, including gambling.

The complaint, filed in Washoe County District Court on Wednesday, alleges patients and doctors weren’t adequately warned of the side effects “despite opportunities and a duty to do so.”

Japanese drug developer Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and its American branch, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc., added “pathological gambling” warnings to the drug’s label in Canada and Europe in 2012 but did not do so in the United States until January 2016, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also names Otsuka’s U.S. marketing partner, Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York City, and two of its sales representatives.

Bristol-Myers Squibb did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Otsuka America Pharmaceutical declined to comment.

Abilify, generically known as aripiprazole, is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, depression and autism spectrum disorders, the complaint says. A 2011 report to the European Medicines Agencies submitted by the defendants said the possibility that Abilify caused compulsive gambling “could not be excluded,” the complaint said.

As a result, the companies added the warning language to the drug labels in Europe and Canada, it said.

From 2005 to 2013, the FDA received at least 30 reports of compulsive gambling, plus 24 reports of other impulsive behavior like compulsive shopping and hypersexuality, that could be linked to the drug, the complaint says.

The companies did not advertise the potential side effects in its U.S. patient medication guide, the complaint alleges, and continued to market the drug online.

There are about 1,000 lawsuits nationwide against the companies’ distribution of Abilify, said Peter Wetherall, a Las Vegas attorney representing the Northern Nevada plaintiffs. Easy access to gambling in Nevada casinos augments the problem for those dealing with compulsive behaviors, he said.

“These people were vulnerable to begin with and things got much worse for them,” Wetherall said. “Their meager little Social Security check is now being spent on slot machines or whatever, so it’s pretty sad.”

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for the gambling losses sustained while taking the drug.

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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