Louisiana lawmaker Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-District 55) has promised to pay back $37,000 he spent from his campaign account on gambling, actions which he has blamed on his Parkinson’s medication. On Wednesday, Richard promised to pay restitution, and indicated he’d reached an agreement with the Board of Ethics that stipulates both repayment and admitting improper use of donations.
The 62-year-old legislator, one of three independents in the State House, said he raided the account that is supposed to be used for reelection-related expenses after draining his personal funds. He did not disclose what type of gambling he was participating in, though New Orleans is less than an hour away from his home of Thibodaux and has more than 10 casinos.
While Richard quickly acknowledged his misdeed, the political fallout is still undetermined. He did send a letter of apology to his fellow legislative members and has said he wants to continue serving his constituents.
“My intentions are to serve out the remainder of this term,” Richard said. “I know people will call for my head and that’s to be expected … The hard part is facing the public. I’m just asking forgiveness, is all I can do.”
The politician has been in office since 2008 and began taking a prescription for Parkinson’s Disease in 2011. That is when he said he developed an interest in gambling.
“The drugs involved, I’m sure they had something to do with it,” he said. “But I’ve taken responsibility, and I’m moving forward.”
He claimed the activity continued until mid-2015 when he stopped taking Pramipexole, which is marketed under the name Mirapex, to treat the hand tremors he was experiencing.
Class action suits in both the US and Canada have been in courtrooms since 2010, and Richard said he waited too long to be a part of that litigation.
Pramixpexole is part of a group of drugs called dopamine agonists that not only treat Parkinson’s Disease, but have also been used for restless leg syndrome.
As early as 2005, research indicated a link between that class of drugs and impulse control behaviors such as excessive gambling, shopping, and sexual activity. A more recent investigation, published in December 2014 by the Journal of American Medicine Association, supported the connection as well.
“As a paper, it really isn’t telling us anything we didn’t know, it’s just reinforcing it,” said Dr. Howard Weiss, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, who published a commentary that accompanied the study. “But it needs reinforcing because most physicians aren’t aware of the problem or underestimate the severity.”
With that research and the subsequent lawsuits, researchers are trying to find alternative medications to treat the disease. They have created a new type of generic drug called levodopa, which enters the brain and converts to dopamine, but does not have the adverse side effects related to Pramixpexole.