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.