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Restless legs vs. compulsive gambling: You decide

August 30, 2007, 4:16 PM UTC
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Capsules are laid out for inspection on the production line of the Popular Pharmaceuticals Ltd. generic drug factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Bangladesh's central bank this month raised interest rates for the second time in four months to curb inflation that has exceeded 9 percent since the start of 2011. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Everyday you hear about new ailments or new diagnoses of old conditions. Recently, for instance, I became aware that an entire group of business executives I know, including myself, were not actually just vague, ill-tempered, incapable of holding a thought for more than five minutes, obsessed with unimportant details, incapable of focusing on incoming stimuli. Of course, we are all those things, but it’s not because we’re jerks. It’s because we have a combination of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder brought on post Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I certainly have the latter. Like, if you sneak up behind me and say, “Hi,” I will jump a mile in the air and come down swinging.

The only long-term cure for our common complaint seems to be $10 million and a condo in Maui. At this point, I’m sorry to say, that course of treatment seems unlikely for me. So I’ll just have to limp along with the rest of my fellow sufferers in senior management, applying martinis, expensive food and wine and the occasional trip to Cabo or Vegas as a pit stop on the way to health or death, whichever comes first.

The problem with any treatment for a newly-diagosed condition, or an old one, for that matter, is that any medicine at all comes with side effects. The side effects of daily application of martinis, for example, are well known. Expensive food and wine, too, eventually take their toll, as any cardiologist or tailor will tell you. And trips to Cabo and Vegas, while effective, often benefit the true sufferer for about as long as it takes the first crazy phone to ring.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by the side effects of all the new stuff that marketers want us to put into our bodies. A few years ago they offered us potato chips with Olestra. It turned out that Olestra, while having many benefits (including possibly helping to rid the body of dioxin, Mr. Yuschenko) also produced a condition that was featured on perhaps the most famous warning label in history.

I’m not going to say what it was in full, not here, but let’s just say it involved the word “leakage.” This term was featured not only on the package — along with the body part involved — but also, as I recall, in the final murmurs of a television commercial or two, although that may just be in my imagination. Suffice it to say that every party where Olestra potato chips were found was sure to feature people reading its package out loud. This eventually must have affected sales, I’m sure.

There are some side-effects, in short, that make the product terminally unappealing no matter how positive its other aspects may be. Other side effects, on the other hand, are more ambiguous.

This brings me to my favorite television commercials right now. They appeal to people who suffer from what sounds like a very serious and annoying neurological condition called Restless Leg Syndrome. There are a number of new products on the market to treat RLS, and I’m sure they are a godsend to many who have suffered from the interrupted sleep, painful twitching, etc., that attends this ailment, for which there seems to be no cure. While I have many annoying things wrong with me, as I’m sure you do too, RLS is not yet one of them, and I’m thankful for that, and my heart goes out to those people.

Anyhow, whether it’s the station I watch or the time of night at which I’m watching, there seem to be a lot of commercials for people with RLS. The other night, while I was kind of doing something else, and one of these marketing messages was being beamed at the back of my head for the 25th time in a couple of hours (this being cable television), I heard the words, “gambling, sexual or other uncontrollable urges” and then a welter of other warning babble. Hm, I thought. Perhaps I heard wrong.

So I sat down and watched the next three minutes of programming that a cable network gives you between commercials and then up came the next pod and sure enough, it had the same spots as the pod before, as they do, and here came another one for people with RLS. I’m not quoting it exactly, but what I remember went something like, “users should inform their doctor if they feel the urge to gamble, sexual or other uncontrollable urges” while taking the drug. Hey, I thought to myself. Sounds like Vegas.

This morning I went to the web page of one of these medicines, and found this:

There have been reports of patients taking certain medications to treat Parkinson’s disease or RLS… that have reported problems with gambling, compulsive eating, and increased sex drive. It is not possible to reliably estimate how often these behaviors occur to determine which factors may contribute to them. If you or your family members notice that you are developing unusual behaviors, talk to your doctor.

I don’t know what to conclude from all this. It’s just kind of evocative, that’s all. I imagine a perfectly nice person with Restless Legs Syndrome finally finding relief. After a week or so, this quiet, twitchy person suddenly has turned into a gambling, voracious sex machine. He or she goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “You have to give up the drug and stop being a gambling, voracious sex machine and go back to being a twitchy, uncomfortable person who can’t sleep.”

What would you do? And how long do you think it will take them to isolate what’s wrong with the RLS medicine and turn it into something really marketable?