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Selling ADHD

Medicine bottle $

Here comes the good and the bad news both in the same breath: After 25 years the mainstream media is finally reporting on the ruthless marketing of ADHD by the nation’s pharmaceutical companies.

A scathing and lengthy exposé in last Sunday’s NY Times begins with  prominent and longtime pro-ADHD psychologist Keith Conners calling the mushrooming of the ADHD diagnosis—the rate currently stands at a full 15% of American children, with the number of medicated kids soaring from 600,000 to 3.5 million since 1990—“a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic,” continues Conners. “Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

The article reveals in lurid detail how drug manufacturers have stopped at nothing to convince easily frightened parents that ADHD is a real disease with dire consequences if left untreated. It all began in 1990 when the drug companies offered to rescue the leading professional journal in the field from bankruptcy if it reversed its founding prohibition against advertising. A decade later every issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry would contain over 100 pages of ads, nearly every one a full-page color splash for an A.D.H.D. medication.

Soon thereafter the makers of Ritalin fronted the money to establish a national clearinghouse for the spread of ADHD propaganda known as CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). Masquerading as an independent support and advocacy group, CHADD began disseminating information supplied by the ADHD industry to an unsuspecting public as though it were its own—all of which was just a run-up to a massive lobbying effort to persuade the FDA to relax its regulation of stimulant medications. Funny when a 1995 PBS documentary revealed that CHADD forgot to mention to the government that the campaign was entirely industry-financed.

It was equally unamusing when a 2005 Senate investigation discovered that the research of Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital and a leading ADHD theorist, was heavily underwritten by the drug companies. And that thus far they have also paid him $1.6 million in personal speaking and consulting fees.

Also thanks to the Times report, we now know that the industry has recently begun marketing to kids directly, with the makers of the most-prescribed  ADHD drug Adderall subsidizing the publication of 50,000 copies of a comic book that uses superheroes to tell children, “Medicines may make it easier to pay attention and control your behavior!”

The bottom line: Profits from the sale of stimulant medications have risen more than fivefold in less than a decade, from $1.7 to nearly $9 billion.

Kudos to the Times for exposing the role of pharmaceutical corporations in fomenting a false epidemic of children suffering from an alleged genetic neurological disorder. Unfortunately the reporter appears to accept the basic tenets of the ADHD construct at face value and stops well short of questioning whether the medical-industrial complex has manufactured the disease as well as the drugs it sells to “treat” it.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. jessie nace #

    Thank you so much! I recently wrote a paper for a college class. The paper was on ADHD, and how too many children are being over diagnosed with ADHD. I found some surprising information, that suggest some doctors who prescribed ritalin, concerta or adderall were being reimbursed, by the pharmaceutical companies. It was very disturbing. As a mom, with a child who was diagnosed ADAH and given a narcotic at six, I felt that maybe she was misdiagnosed, not to mentioned that she has been getting headaches three times a week for six years. So I took her off the medication, and asked for her to be revaluated. She has been off the meds since June and hasnt had a headache once. I am greatful for your post, it was very encouraging.

    December 20, 2013
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      Glad the article was helpful to you, Jessie. I wasn’t just mincing words when I called the drug companies ruthless. But wonderful news that you took your daughter off those meds.

      December 20, 2013
  2. William Clotworthy, M.D. #

    We learned from the NYTimes article that many children are treated for ADHD needlessly. In my work as a child psychiatrist in therapeutic schools over forty years I have seen occasional children with ADHD who never get even a trial of meds, because the parents are afraid to give permission. As a result the child cannot sit still enough to concentrate and thus learns very slowly. Experience shows that 80% of ADHD children who truly need the medicines benefit. It is easy to tell the days when they fail to get their AM dose. I fear that parents reading this article will be all the more afraid to give permission for even a trial.

    December 21, 2013
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      Thanks for weighing in on this very complex issue, Dr. Clotworthy, There are so many facets to it. In the therapeutic school where I taught for 35 years we operated according to a very different educational model and never found that we needed to medicate a child. In fact our students reported substantial relief when we convinced their parents to take them off the meds.

      December 26, 2013
  3. Danielle #

    My daughter is 7 and has been diagnosed A.D.H.D and O.D.D. We’ve been working with the CSED classoom and a therapeutic treatment center. I tried everything I could think of before meds but her teacher just kept saying how difficult she was and how disruptive she is in the classroom; so I finally caved and tried a medication. Of course it worked but her appetite went to nothing, and it was harder and harder to get her to sleep at night. And when her meds would wear off she was worse than ever. She’d scream and just be so overly emotional. I don’t know what else to do. Shes sooo smart and beautiful but all her teachers see is this disruptive kid. What do I do now?

    December 29, 2013
    • Chris Mercogliano #

      It’s hard to give advice with so little information to go on, Danielle. All I can do here is sympathize with you for being between such an obvious rock and a hard place, and encourage you to keep believing in your daughter. Also to keep talking to her doctor and her teachers about alternatives to the medications that are making her so sick — more physical and creative activity in the classroom, more flexibility and choice, smaller groups and more one-on-one attention. etc.

      January 6, 2014

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