In recent years, University of California scientists have examined dopamine, a treatment for Parkinson’s widely understood to kill the brain’s dopamine-producing cells, for other adverse effects. As reported in the UK Daily Mail, the authors of the study found a link between dopamine and, fascinatingly, sex addiction and theft.
The London-based paper described the recent case of a respected Manchester family lawyer, 58, who was jailed for four years after swindling close to USD 1 million from elderly clients to spend on antiques, prostitutes, and sex lines. He began offending soon after starting treatment for Parkinson’s.
The Mail notes that some of the common drugs we take daily have more subtle, but still life-threatening, side-effects. A recent Penn State University study, for example, found that women taking the birth control pill were more jealous (to the point of violence) towards their partners. The study suggests that the synthetic estradiol hormone (a form of estrogen found in many types of the Pill) may affect women’s behavior.
The Penn State report goes so far as to warn that hormonal contraceptives may, ironically, ruin relationships. The marketers of a pill awaiting final FDA approval, flibanserin, claim it can save relationships through increasing the female libido. This creates a frightening tandem of pills in which one damages the relationship and the other is taken in an attempt to save it! Human behavior and interaction could thus be reduced to a war between pharmaceuticals in the body.
The British daily lists other drugs with psychiatric side-effects which have been known for years, but remain on the market as popular medications. The prescription-only asthma drug montelukast sodium is widely used by itself and combined with other drugs. “In 2008, it was linked to four suicides in the U.S. and one suicide attempt in Britain. The FDA reports 990 cases linking this drug with aggression. Other reported side-effects include agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, irritability and suicide,” it says.
“The anti-smoking drug Champix, meanwhile, has been the subject of more than 4,000 reports to the FDA citing depression and attempted suicide. It is also the subject of a class action lawsuit in Canada alleging psychiatric side-effects.”
Last November, the Mail warned, the acne drug isotretinoin was linked with depression and suicidal behavior, and the researchers recommended that doctors be careful when prescribing it.
Critics of the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), say it does not adequately share information about potential dangers and is “terribly secretive.” Likewise, they say, pharmaceutical companies must be much more open with the results of their own clinical trials. Of course, in the U.S. we have similar problems with the FDA and drug companies not being fully forthcoming.
Professor David Taylor, the director of pharmacy and pathology at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, pointed out to the Mail that “Any drug that gets into the brain has the potential to alter the way that we feel.” In 2010, he co-authored a report in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine that warned: “The psychiatric side-effects of non-psychiatric drugs are poorly studied.”
Central to the problem, he says, is that psychological side-effects can be difficult to spot during research. Moreover, he says such psychological changes “can be very rare and may not turn up in trials that cover only a few hundred people.” The Daily Mail correctly adds that “thus problems only really emerge post-trial, when large numbers of patients take the drugs.