Gambling addiction triggered by RLS drug

Q: I almost fell off my chair when I accidentally came across information that ropinirole could trigger impulsive gambling. I have been taking this drug for eight years for restless legs. When it was first prescribed, I thought it was an absolute godsend, because it relieved my restless legs and allowed me to sleep at night.

Now I finally understand why I became addicted to gambling shortly after starting this medication. I hated what I was doing, but could not stop.

A: Ropinirole (Requip) and pramipexole (Mirapex) are prescribed for restless legs syndrome (RLS) and Parkinson’s disease. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (December 2014) confirmed that such drugs indeed trigger pathological gambling, compulsive shopping and hypersexuality.

Some drug-safety experts believe the incidence of such impulse-control problems might be as high as 10 percent. They have called for more prominent warnings to protect unwary patients.

Q: I was put on statins when I was 40. By 47, I needed cataract surgery in both eyes. I became prediabetic and suffered from muscle weakness, memory loss and had trouble finding the right words.

The cognitive difficulties became so severe that I had to stop working. My doctor wants me to keep taking Crestor, but I wonder if statins are causing more harm than good.

A: Statins can cause all the side effects you have described. When a medication affects the quality of your life, it is reasonable to consider alternatives.

We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health so you can discuss other options with your physician. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (68 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: I am extremely susceptible to chigger bites. I never know where they are lurking. I like to garden in my backyard and hike in the woods. A day or two later, I am covered with bites that itch like crazy and then blister. They are ugly and take weeks to heal.

I have two questions: What can I do to prevent chiggers from biting me in the first place? If I get a bite, what can I do to control the itching and speed healing?

A: Chiggers (Trombiculidae) are tiny mites that climb on grasses and bushes waiting for unsuspecting prey to mosey by. Contrary to folklore, chiggers do not burrow under the skin, but they do bite and leave digestive enzymes behind. Some people like you are highly allergic to their enzymes and experience extreme itching, redness and swelling.

The best way to prevent bites is to make sure you never venture outside without protection. Tuck long pants into the tops of socks, and coat your shoes, socks and pants legs with a highly effective insect repellent.

Consumer Reports rates Sawyer Picaridin highly against ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs. Another option is DEET (OFF! Deepwoods VIII or Ben’s 30 percent DEET Tick and Insect Wilderness Formula). Permethrin-containing products like Repel can be applied to clothing as well.

Once a bite appears, hot water may temporarily ease the itching, but a strong corticosteroid gel is the best solution. You will need a prescription from your doctor for that.

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In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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