The Selling of ADHD

These days it’s very common to hear or see ads about ADHD. People, especially parents, will mention it in everyday conversations. You’d think it was an epidemic in and of itself. And if you have a child that is exhibiting symptoms of ADHD or a related disorder, it can become a very large focus in your life. When you look at the statistics, it’s difficult to get a solid foothold either one way or the other.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the diagnosis has been made in 15% of high school aged children and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990.

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”, Dr. Keith Conners, Clinical Psychologist at Duke University and ADHD expert.

Interestingly enough, the alarming rise of diagnoses of ADHD and the rise in use of medication have coincided with a 20 year campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote pills to doctors, educators and parents, through various channels.

 Before going any further, please understand that we’re not talking about whether medication for ADHD is good or bad, or other possible, more natural forms of treatment; all we’re looking at is the epidemic of how the pharmaceutical industry has overstepped (according to the FDA), manipulated and misrepresented research and people in an attempt to sell more product to make more money.

 There are different channels that have been used. Selling directly to physicians, selling through seemingly third-party, independent-of-financial-support-from-the-pharmaceutical-industry patient advocacy groups and selling directly to consumers through print and T.V. ads as well as interviews and programs through news media. Some pharmaceutical companies have even created online continuing education programs for physicians to educate them about ADHD!

 Shire, the leading market leader, with several ADHD medications recently subsidized copies of a comic book that tries to demystify the disorder and uses superheroes to tell children: “Medicines may make it easier to pay attention and control your behaviour.”

 Pharmaceutical companies have quite consistently misrepresented the effects of ADHD medications, implying greater effects than have actually been proven and minimizing side effects, making statements such as: “Adderall is safer than aspirin.”, even though they can have significant side effects and are regulated in the same class as morphine and oxycodone because of their potential for abuse and addiction.

 Side effects (which are all effects of the drug but are called side effects in order to distract you from them) of ADHD medication is known to cause psychiatric breakdown and suicidal thoughts. These are however outnumbered by people, wanting to study or work longer hours, who lose their appetite, can’t sleep or hallucinate, some becoming habituated to the medication. Just ask anyone of the hundreds to thousands of college and university students who form the new black market for ADHD drugs.

 Pharmaceutical companies selling drugs to our children, for the treatment of ADHD has become an epidemic, one that involves different levels of government and oversight, media and physicians. I’m not suggesting a conspiracy theory. I’m suggesting that public trust is mostly blind and the more we know about what’s actually happening, how and why, empowers us as individuals, in the roles we play, as a community and as custodians of our children’s future.