Much like beautiful snowflakes, virtually no two human bodies are the same. Chemistry hates that about us. That's why taking heavy-duty prescription medicine can result in side effects that often feel like less like a cure and more like a game of swapsies. Would you be willing to swap incontinence for insomnia? Risk of heart attack for blindness? How about depression for a one-way ticket to Vegas to blow all your money on blackjack and hookers?
Like over 1.6 million other Americans, one woman was ordered to start taking one of the most popular antipsychotic and anti-depressive drugs in the world, Abilify, which can combat disorders like schizophrenia, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and even Tourette's syndrome. But a few weeks after, she started to develop an itch. Not an uncommon side effect, except that the only thing that could scratch this particular itch was "riding her bike to the nearest casino and blowing her family's life savings."
This patient was one of hundreds of Abilify users who suffer from a strange side effect whereby they suffer specific compulsive behaviors. In most cases, this led to compulsive gambling, but there have also been many cases of an uncontrollable urge to shop, binge eat, have lots of sex, and indulge in other archetypal frat boy / depressed soccer mom behaviors. Not that you'd have known this could happen, as a lack of impulse control wasn't one of the disclosed side effects of the drugs, and it was only in 2016 that the FDA finally issued a warning that Abilify might turn you into a sex or gambling addict.
Of course, hundreds of Abilify users are now suing Bristol-Myers Squibb and its original developer Otsuka for not reporting these side effects. In fact, the lawsuits keep piling up in such a dramatic fashion that a U.S. judge has ordered the companies to settle all 800 of them before September 1. Incidentally, this is by no means the first time Bristol-Myers Squibb has done some shady stuff. Over the past decade, they've had to pay over half a billion dollars in fines for aggressively marketing Abilify to chronically ill patients the drug has no known effect on, making the big pharmaceutical company look as dodgy as, well, a big pharmaceutical company.
But there still remains one important question: Is Abilify actually causing these side effects? Despite the pharma companies having already settled several of the suits behind closed doors and hundreds of its users having come forward with the same symptoms, there is still not enough scientific evidence that can definitely point the finger at Abilify as the reason people can't peel themselves away from slot machines. To make matter trickier, the side effect is by no means common. Reported cases do show that the odds "only" seem to be fewer than 1 in 10,000, but is that a chance you're willing to take? If you take Abilify, you might feel the urge to bet your house on it.
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