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Notebook Money

No easy cure


No easy cure

Drug company comes up short on a pill for the love of money

The long-term cure for sin doesn't come in a bottle, but Somaxon Pharmaceuticals gave it a good try. The San Diego-based drug maker has been attempting to find a drug to treat problem gambling, but company executives announced on Dec. 5 that test results haven't been encouraging.

Problem gamblers-those diagnosed as "pathological" gamblers-who took a drug called nalmefene hydrochloride did no better in curbing their gaming habit than a control group that took placebos. Some of those who took the drug did, however, come down with such side effects as insomnia, nausea, and dizziness. The company is hoping for better results in tests of the drug as an aid to stop smoking.

The extent to which pathological gambling, or gambling addiction, plagues Americans is a topic of much study and debate. The National Center for Responsible Gaming estimates that the problem afflicts about 1.1 percent of Americans and Canadians, while the National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported in 1999 that between 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent of Americans had been compulsive gamblers in the previous year.

A white paper for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling notes that studies peg addiction rates much higher in areas with "mature markets" for gambling, such as Nevada (as high as 6.4 percent) and Mississippi (4.9 percent), and that these areas "provide a reasonable reference for what all of America could become if the trend [toward increased gambling] were to continue."

The bottom line: Millions of Americans are problem gamblers even if the lowest projections are correct-enough to leave executives at Somaxon Pharmaceuticals saddened by the results of their tests.

"It was always a higher risk development program largely because no drug has ever been approved for this impulse control disorder, though we did think it had a reasonable chance for success," Jeff Raser, senior vice president and co-founder of Somaxon, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's a disappointment."

Balance sheet

BUDGET: The monthly federal budget deficit was smaller in November than it had been a year earlier. The Treasury Department reported on Dec. 12 a November deficit of $75.6 billion, down from $83.1 billion in November 2005. As with previous cuts in the deficit, the drop was a result of tax collections growing faster than federal spending. Tax revenues increased 8.8 percent in October and November, while government spending grew 4.2 percent.

TRADE: Another well-publicized deficit also fell, with sharply lower oil prices reducing the U.S. trade gap to its lowest level in over a year. The trade deficit for October, according to the Commerce Department, was $58.9 billion, compared to $64.3 billion in September.

CHINA: Despite the overall reduction in the trade gap, the deficit with China increased by 6.1 percent. The rise was powered by an influx of toys and other Christmas items. The news came as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and other key officials prepared for a late-week trip to China to engage in "strategic dialogue" about Beijing's trade and currency policies. U.S. trade officials argue that China remains too closed to U.S. financial and other service companies, while American manufacturers say China's currency is undervalued. China's foreign ministry insisted that the country has "implemented our obligations and commitments earnestly" and abided by WTO rules.