One of the more important lessons writers learn as they define and refine the art of writing is that the flaws in the characters they create are what make those characters more interesting to the reader. And those particular character flaws contribute significantly to the conflict that arises when characters act as they do in perilous situations.
I often use pharmaceuticals as lethal weapons in my writing. What if those pharmaceutical substances, instead, created a specific character flaw that caused the character to act in a lethal manner? Would the drug be considered a weapon of murder or simply an instrument that creates the murderer?
The other day I came across an interesting medical report called “Medication Lotto: Can a Drug Cause a Gambling Addiction?” That article made me think about behavior-altering drugs and, more specifically, the behavior-altering SIDE EFFECTS of drugs.
The article reported that an elderly man was brought in for evaluation after family members were concerned when the man suddenly developed a new passion in his life. He was spending much of his time in a nearby gambling casino and had lost much of his retirement savings as a result of his gambling addiction.
Upon evaluation of the man’s medical history, it was discovered that he suffered from depression and Parkinson’s disease. An astute doctor focused on the dopamine agonist medications that were being used to treat these conditions.
Dopamine agonists stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain. The end result includes mood shifts and decreases in the abnormal reflex action associated with diseases like Parkinsonism and Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
In controlled studies, it was found that almost 20% of patients with Parkinson’s disease who were treated with a dopamine agonist drug developed compulsive behavior side effects, such as gambling addiction and hypersexuality.
Similar compulsive disorder side effects were seen in studies of drugs used to treat depression and bipolar disorder. Because Restless Leg Syndrome is a neurological disease, the drugs used to treat this condition are similar to Parkinson’s drugs (dopamine agonists). A Mayo Clinic study discovered that a relatively large number of patients with RLS developed compulsive gambling habits and other compulsive disorders, such as shopping addictions or compulsive eating, when taking drugs for RLS.
These reports got my creative juices flowing and almost put my brain on overload as I thought about what interesting plot twists I could create using a similar drug to spice up a storyline with a character who develops a compulsive gambling, shopping or binge-eating habit as a result of being treated with a dopamine agonist drug for depression, Parkinson’s disease or RLS.
There also have been some dramatic and expensive lawsuits filed against drug manufacturers from patients who have lost their life savings because of the gambling addiction side effects of these drugs. One such lawsuit resulted in an $8.2 million judgment against the drug developer for failing to provide adequate warnings of the potential risks in taking a particular drug.
Although a number of patient lawsuits have been filed against drug manufacturers and not against the prescribing physicians for these financially devastating side effects, future lawsuits will likely include the prescribing physicians. And that idea could create another very interesting plot twist.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!