On November 1, 2016, a California woman named Chrystal Austin filed a lawsuit against Bristol Meyers-Squibb after having suffered excessive financial losses linked to a compulsive gambling problem caused by the drug Abilify. Ms. Austin claims that the drug maker failed to warn consumers about the impulse control side-effects before it caused her significant financial and personal harm.
Ms. Austin is not alone. Her story, it seems, is a common one throughout the country. There were so many plaintiffs suing Bristol Meyers-Squibb for gambling compulsions that an Abilify MDL (Multidistrict Litigation) was created in September. It is being heard by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, in Florida.
Aripiprazole, sold under the brand name Abilify, is an atypical antipsychotic medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002 for use in the treatment of schizophrenia and manic and mixed bipolar I disorder, major depression, Tourette’s and the irritability associated with autism. In May 2016, the FDA issued a safety warning for Abilify due to the new impulse-control problems associated with taking the drug. The FDA warned that, “compulsive or uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop, and have sex have been reported with the use of the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole (Abilify, Abilify Maintena, Aristada, and generics). These uncontrollable urges were reported to have stopped when the medicine was discontinued or the dose was reduced.” The adverse effect of impulse control problems was not common, but could lead to harm to the patient and to others if it were not recognized and stopped.
Ms. Austin says that she first began taking Abilify in 2011 when her doctor prescribed it, and then soon after she started taking it she began to develop an uncontrollable gambling addiction. The gambling compulsion stopped when she stopped taking the drug in 2015, but by that time she says that she had already suffered more than $10,000 in gambling losses and considerable personal anguish.
In the FDA’s adverse event reporting system (FAERS), there are about 184 cases where there was a link between aripiprazole and impulse-control problems with pathological gambling being the most common. Other compulsive behaviors included compulsive over-eating, gambling, shopping and sexual behaviors. Most of these cases reported no prior history of the compulsive behavior that was linked to taking aripiprazole, and within a few days or weeks of discontinuing use of the drug, the urges went away. The FDA reports that about 1.6 million patients received aripiprazole prescriptions in 2015.