The selling of ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a serious problem in kids. I’ve been funded in the past, and published on the results, for a trial to improve physician diagnosis and management of the condition. So I hope I don’t have to convince you that I agree that it’s real, and that it warrants attention.

That said, the NYT had a longform piece yesterday on how it’s being oversold these days:

After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keith Conners could be celebrating.

Severely hyperactive and impulsive children, once shunned as bad seeds, are now recognized as having a real neurological problem. Doctors and parents have largely accepted drugs like Adderall and Concerta to temper the traits of classic A.D.H.D., helping youngsters succeed in school and beyond.

But Dr. Conners did not feel triumphant this fall as he addressed a group of fellow A.D.H.D. specialists in Washington. He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

I can’t do the thing justice here, as there are far too many important points. Read it. And watch this NYT video. But I can’t resist a few excerpts. Here’s Roger Griggs, who introduced Adderall:

“There’s no way in God’s green earth we would ever promote” a controlled substance like Adderall directly to consumers, Mr. Griggs said as he was shown several advertisements. “You’re talking about a product that’s having a major impact on brain chemistry. Parents are very susceptible to this type of stuff.”

Or get a load of this:

Many of the scientific studies cited by drug company speakers involved Dr. Joseph Biederman, a prominent child psychiatrist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2008, a Senate investigation revealed that Dr. Biederman’s research on many psychiatric conditions had been substantially financed by drug companies, including Shire. Those companies also paid him $1.6 million in speaking and consulting fees. He has denied that the payments influenced his research.

Seriously? There’s a reason drug companies give out marketing materials like pens. They work. But Biederman thinks he’s not influenced by $1.6 million?!?!?!?

And this:

“The fastest-growing segment of the market now is the new adults who were never diagnosed,” Angus Russell told Bloomberg TV in 2011 when he was Shire’s chief executive. Nearly 16 million prescriptions for A.D.H.D. medications were written for people ages 20 to 39 in 2012, close to triple the 5.6 million just five years before, according to IMS Health. No data show how many patients those prescriptions represent, but some experts have estimated two million.

Foreseeing the market back in 2004, Shire sponsored a booklet that according to its cover would “help clinicians recognize and diagnose adults with A.D.H.D.” Its author was Dr. Dodson, who had delivered the presentation at the Adderall XR launch two years before. Rather than citing the widely accepted estimate of 3 to 5 percent, the booklet offered a much higher figure.

“About 10 percent of adults have A.D.H.D., which means you’re probably already treating patients with A.D.H.D. even though you don’t know it,” the first paragraph ended. But the two studies cited for that 10 percent figure, from 1995and 1996, involved only children; no credible national study before or since has estimated an adult prevalence as high as 10 percent.

I have to stop. Just do me a favor and go read it.

@aaronecarroll

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