Pathological Gambling Habit Caused by Abilify, Lawsuit Alleges

The side effects of Abilify, a popular antipsychotic, allegedly caused a Tennessee man to develop a pathological gambling habit that cost him more than $375,000. 

In a complaint (PDF) filed late last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Michael Runninghorse claims he began compulsively gambling after he was prescribed Abilify, which only abated once he was taken off the drug.

The lawsuit names Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. as defendants, claiming that the drug makers knew or should have known about the risk that users may develop a pathological gambling habit caused by Abilify, but withheld important warnings and information from consumers and the medical community, which may have allowed doctors to detect and prevent the destructive behavior before it caused long-lasting consequences.

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Runninghorse indicates that he began taking Abilify in January 2007, and shortly thereafter began gambling compulsively. The habit only stopped when he was taken off Abilify in June 2015, but by then he indicates that he had already suffered monetary losses in excess of $375,000.

The complaint joins a growing number of other Abilify lawsuits pending in courts nationwide, each involving similar allegations that users began to engage in compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, shopping or hypersexual activity, shortly after starting treatment or increasing dose.

Abilify (ariprazole) is one of the top-selling brand name medications on the market in the United States, generating sales in excess of $6 billion per year, and it is widely used by millions of Americans for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other major depressive disorders. It is also widely used off-label to treat irritability, aggression, mood swings and other behavior issues. Patented by Otsuka scientists, it is distributed in the U.S. by Otsuka and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Although compulsive gambling warnings were added to Abilify in several other countries a number of years ago, the drug has been sold in the United States without any mention that it may cause users to engage in unusual compulsive behaviors until this year. In addition, a number of studies and adverse event reports submitted for years have suggested that users developed uncontrollable gambling addictions shortly after starting Abilify, or increasing dosage, with the compulsive behaviors stopping shortly after the medication was discontinued or dosage was decreased.

“In or around October or November 2012, the European Medicines Agency required that Defendants warn patients and the medical community in Europe that Abilify use included the risk of pathological gambling,” the lawsuit states, noting that a similar warning was applied in Canada in November 2015. “Despite these warnings and advisories in Europe and Canda — for the same drug sold to patients in the United States — the labeling for Abilify in the United States did not adequately warn about the risk of compulsive gambling and contained no mention that pathological gambling had been reported in patients prescribed Abilify.”

In May 2016, the FDA required the drug makers to update the U.S. warning label and add information about the link between Abilify and gambling problems for the first time. Until then, most doctors were unaware of the importance of monitoring for the emergence of addictive behaviors among users of the medication.

Runninghorse’s lawsuit and others allege that if warnings had been provided, earlier intervention may have helped individuals avoid catastrophic and long-lasting consequences gambling caused by side effects of Abilify. New warnings now encourage users to speak with their doctor immediately if they notice urges to gamble, or engage in compulsive shopping, eating or sexual activity.

There are current dozens of cases pending nationwide, seeking financial compensation for substantial gambling losses and the damage caused to individuals’ financial stability, employment, family relations and overall quality of life. As Abilify gambling lawyers continue to review and file cases in the coming months and years, it is widely expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of claims will be brought nationwide.

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