Magazine article Insight on the News

Writing May Be on Wall for Ritalin

Magazine article Insight on the News

Writing May Be on Wall for Ritalin

Article excerpt

A lawsuit challenging the validity of the science behind mental illness and drugs will have repercussions for drug makers as well as for the mental-health establishment.

Hardly a mention was made in the national media concerning the class-action lawsuit filed in May by the Dallas law firm of Waters and Kraus. It named the Novartis Pharmaceutical Co. (the maker of the drug Ritalin), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder as defendants for conspiring, colluding and cooperating in promoting the diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Last week, however, a second lawsuit made a bang when even bigger guns were rolled out in California and New Jersey to take aim at an industry that has enjoyed a special relationship with the Clinton/Gore administration. Indeed it is a relationship which, based on numerous speeches by the vice president and his wife -- who has been the president's White House mental-health guru -- would continue if Al and Tipper Gore are allowed to make the White House their new residence on Inauguration Day.

And if the beating the tobacco industry took at the hands of these attorneys is any indication of what the defendants should anticipate, the psychiatric community, pharmaceutical industry and mental-health advocacy groups finally may be called upon to put their science where their mouths are. Putting aside the legal jargon, what appears to be in question is the ever-increasing influence of pharmaceutical companies over public and private mental-health organizations and, ultimately, whether that influence is responsible for the growing number of "mental illnesses" and the subsequent increased use of psychotropic drugs.

The class-action lawsuit that was filed last week in California and New Jersey names Novartis and the APA as defendants for conspiring to create a market for Ritalin by targeting millions of children and misdiagnosing them with ADD/ADHD for the strategic purpose of expanding use of the drug.

Both the APA and Novartis have a great deal at stake professionally and financially. To fight the claim that children have been and still are being misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, the APA -- the nation's leading psychiatric professional group -- will be required to cough up its medical and scientific data to support the ADD/ADHD diagnosis. This may be difficult given the growing number of physicians, scientists and even psychiatrists who long have argued that the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is not based in science that the diagnosis is a fraud based on subjective assessments.

Furthermore, should the APA fail to provide the necessary scientific data, Novartis could be forced by the courts to return to consumers hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars made from the sale of Ritalin. Even more devastating to Novartis, should it be exposed that the diagnosis of ADD/ ADHD is scientifically baseless, would be an end to the prescribing of the drug. This type of judgment could open the industry to additional lawsuits requiring proof of thousands of alleged mental illnesses. The reverberations through the pharmaceutical industry could be devastating.

Considering that Ritalin has been in use since the mid-1950s, one has to wonder how tens of millions of children and adults could be prescribed a highly addictive drug for more than 40 years without concrete scientific data to support the diagnosis. According to psychiatrist Loren Mosher, it isn't that tough. Mosher is the former chief of the Center for Studies for Schizophrenia at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and author of the definitive book Community Mental Health, A Practical Guide. Mosher explains that the Ritalin phenomenon comes down to a very simple theory: "If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth." Long aware of infiltration by the pharmaceutical companies into professional psychiatric organizations, Mosher resigned his membership in the APA with a stinging 1998 letter in which he wrote:

"The major reason for this action is my belief that I am actually resigning from the American Psychopharmacological Association. …

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