Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. manufacture and sell Abilify, a prescription drug for the depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Tens of thousands of people are prescribed Abilify every year.

In a Master Complaint filed in December 2016, lawyers say drug-makers knew Abilify increased the risk of gambling addiction, but failed to investigate. Instead, they waited years to add warnings in the U.S., putting profits over public safety.

Specific warnings about “pathological gambling” were added to the list of side effects on drug-labels in Europe in 2012 and Canada in 2015, long before similar warnings were added in the U.S.

In fact, the U.S. label did not mention the word “gambling” until January 2016, but it was buried in a list of post-marketing reports. The U.S. label did not have a specific section on uncontrollable behaviors until May 2016, when the FDA required stronger warnings.

The FDA announced that “compulsive or uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop, and have sex” are side effects of Abilify. They also urged doctors to carefully monitor patients:

Because patients may not recognize these behaviors as abnormal, it is important for prescribers to ask patients or caregivers specifically about the development of new or intense gambling urges.”

In recent years, nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed by people who lost over $10,000 as a result of addictive gambling and shopping.

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical company are accused of failing to warn patients in the U.S. about gambling addiction and failing to study Abilify for side effects. As a result, doctors and patients were unaware of the risk.

Compulsive gambling is a major psychiatric disorder that was first recognized in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM. It was originally classified as an impulse-control disorder, but later re-classified as an “Addictive Disorder” because gambling activates the same reward systems in the brain as addictive drugs.

The reward system in the brain uses neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin) to reinforce pleasurable behaviors and produce cravings to do the behavior again. Abilify is a partial dopamine-agonist, which means it balances dopamine in the brain to treat mood disorders.

The problem is that patients on Abilify may feel intense pleasure and equally-intense urges for pleasurable activities, which can quickly lead to addiction.

Bristol-Myers Squibb first acknowledged evidence linking Abilify and pathological gambling in September 2011. There are also dozens of case reports in the medical literature describing patients on Abilify or other dopamine-agonist drugs who became addicted to gambling.

From 2005 to 2013, the FDA received 54 reports of compulsive behavior problems from Abilify, including 30 reports of gambling. In 2014, another 29 reports of gambling addiction were linked to Abilify.

Despite a growing amount of evidence, lawyers say drug-makers “failed to investigate or conduct any studies” or “failed to make public the results of any studies or investigations they might have done.”

Instead, drug-makers aggressively promoted Abilify — including illegal promotions for “off-label” uses that were not approved by the FDA.

In 2007, Bristol-Myers Squibb reportedly paid a $515 million settlement with state and federal regulators for advertising Abilify for elderly people with dementia-related psychosis, an illegal use that now carries a Boxed Warning label about an increased risk of death.

Lawyers say the defendants knew or should have known that Abilify increases the risk of serious and dangerous side effects, including uncontrollable behaviors such as compulsive gambling, but failed to investigate or warn about those side effects to protect profits.

Instead of a class action, Abilify lawsuits are individual lawsuits that have been centralized into one federal court in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida — Multi-District Litigation (MDL No. 2734) — In RE: Abilify (Aripiprazole) Products Liability Litigation.

Posted by Elizabeth Bradley

Lifelong consumer advocate. Pop culture nerd. Grammar evangelist. Wannabe organizer. Travel addict. Zombie fan.


  1. I wish Taking this drug only cost me a little over $10,000.00. It cost me millions. Worse and more painful is the emotional pain i inflicted on people close to me and who will probably be dealing with the consequences for years to come, as will I. Not to mention the financial consequences that I will deal with most likely the rest of my life. I can handle suffering for my behaviors but I’m not sure they can nor should they have to. My wife and her daughter 19 are traumatized. My own kids 15 and 11 hardly speak to me despite my daily text.

    I have always taken responsibility for my actions and am not one to say the “drug” made me do it. But here’s the short version of my Abilify story.

    I may have gambled in a casino 10 times in my life. I played $5 blackjack and if I lost any amount I was upset. I played poker with family on New Year’s Eve. That’s about it.

    I was prescribed Abilify for depression after seeing a tv ad for it and asking my doctor about it. The commercial portrayed the relief from depression I was looking for. My doctor described the drug to me and prescribed it to me. I felt the effects immediately. The fog of depression had lifted and I had plenty of energy. In fact I seemed to be moving faster than usual. So fast that once I ordered a meal at a drive thru paid for it at the first window and drove thru the second window without my food. You know how your body (and mind) lets you know something is different? I had that experience and immediately connected it to the new drug Abilify that I was taking. Although I was concerned the depression lifted and I was so relieved I let it go.

    The next time I saw my doctor I believe I told him the medicine was working well. Soon after the gambling started I was beside myself. I had always been financially conservative even a miser at times. Ask my X. All of a sudden I am gablming tens of thousand of dollars every few days. At some point soon after I went back to my doctor who prescribed Abilify and told him I could not stop gambling. He must have thought It was caused by the depression because he upped my dosage. My wife also thought the gambling was caused by the depression. She would beg me to take my medicine. She would set it next to my bed in the morning and call me to remind me to take it. I took it as she requested. This doctor stopped seeing me when the gambling became so bad I was suicidal and came to his office for help. He suggested I go to the hospital. A week or so later I received a letter from his office terminating his care. The gambling slowed but didn’t stop when I stopped the Abilify because I had no prescription. To deal with the depression I found another doctor. By then I and others had labeled myself a compulsive gambler and informed this new doctor of that the first time we met. She asked what I had been on before and I told her the primary antidepressant and Abilify. She asked how it worked I remembered the initial effects and said it worked well. She prescribed Abilify and I was once again off to the casino. Ironic right? I stopped taking Abilify in 2013 and have stopped gambling. I remember the day I walked out of the casino and “knew something was different “

    Please excuse misspellings and auto correct my phone has a mind of its own.

    1. Please speak with your doctor and contact a lawyer at Schmidt & Clark, LLP –

    2. You’ brave to share your story. My reaction to the news that it was the ability that caused my compulsive gambling and shopping? I like to describe it as how animals shake off trauma in the wild — I shook, sobbed and shivered until the initial guilt and hurt felt manageable. I wish there was a forum or support group for us survivors weathering this storm! Until that happens I am glad to have stumbled on your story <3

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