Australia’s moral panic over its citizens turning into pokie-playing zombies is well documented, as are the various proposals for methods of decoupling the zombies’ lips from their video poker teats. The latest is a ban on earphone-equipped poker machines in the state of Victoria. Around 130 such machines currently operating in New South Wales are said to “triple the effect” of pokie addiction, according to anti-gambling crusader Tom Cummings, whose utterly anecdotal research suggests players “lose track of what is going on around them.” (Next: a ban on iPods because some oblivious teenager gets run down by a car crossing a crosswalk, presumably whilst singing Rihanna’s Shut Up & Drive.) Victorian Gaming Minister Michael O’Brien has introduced a 12-month interim ban order on the machines in his home state, while the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation considers a possible 10-year ban.
Of course, prudes like Cummings and O’Brien can’t be everywhere at once, so what do you do when someone does get addicted to the pokies? The Australian Greens party is proposing to treat such individuals with Naltrexone — the same medication currently used to wean heroin addicts and alcoholics off their drug of choice. In a recently released discussion paper, Greens senator Richard Di Natale (formerly a doctor specializing in addiction research) said there were “clear parallels between addiction to gambling and addiction to other substances.” An opioid antagonist, Naltrexone works by blocking pleasure receptors in the brain. So anyone willing to accept this form of treatment can look forward to a long, pleasure-free life. But hey, at least you won’t be wrecking your eardrums by spending countless hours manacled to an earphone-equipped poker machine.
While Big Pharma may rejoice at finding yet another off-label use for one of its products, there’s always the possibility of nasty side effects. Many sufferers of Parkinson’s disease have reported developing uncontrollable urges to gamble after taking medication designed to treat their affliction. A major class action suit is currently underway in Australia against the makers of Parkinson’s drug Sifrol Cabaser for ruining the lives of individuals like Andreas Werth. Werth told The Mercury that Cabaser made him “hell-bent” on playing pokies, blackjack and roulette, to the point where he’d blown $500k over a two-year period. Another sufferer, Terry Martin, recently received a suspended sentence for having sex with a 12-year-old girl because (he claims) Cabaser made him hypersexual. Which begs the question, once these pokies-addicted gamblers are ‘cured’ by Naltrexone, what other strange urges might they develop? Better the devil you know…?