ADHD Overdiagnoses Fueled by Pharma Ads — Physician’s First Watch

Medical News |
December 16, 2013

ADHD Overdiagnoses Fueled by Pharma Ads

By Amy Orciari Herman

The rising rates of ADHD diagnoses are "a national disaster" fueled largely by drug-company ads that target clinicians and parents alike, according to a front-page story in Sunday's New York Times.

"The zeal to find and treat every ADHD child has led to too many people with scant symptoms receiving the diagnosis and medication," reports the Times. The paper's analysis of CDC data found that ADHD trails only asthma as the most common long-term diagnosis in children.

And drug makers are even targeting the young: Adderall's manufacturer subsidized 50,000 copies of a comic book that features superheroes saying, "Medicines may make it easier to pay attention and control your behavior!" (If you ever wondered where the name Adderall came from, the pharma executive who introduced the drug in 1996 told the Times it's meant to convey "ADD [attention deficit disorder] for all.")

The Times story also delves into the debate around the dangers of stimulants, as well as the "new frontier" of ADHD in adults.

Reader Comments (3)

John Anderson Other Healthcare Professional, Neurology

Diagnosis of ADHD only by symptom without use of an objective physiological measure such as CPT, neuropsych testing or quantative EEG is a questionable medical practice. Use of such measures would provide greater certainty and reduce unnecessary diagnosis and treatment.

Barbara Ingersoll, Ph.D. Other Healthcare Professional, Bethesda, MD

Who conferred a scientific degree on this journalist? It's sensationalism masquerading behind a thin veil of "scientific inquiry." Is it disconcerting that the incidence/prevalence of diagnosed ADHD is currently so high? Yes. Does that mean we can lay the blame on Big Pharma? Maybe not. Maybe we need to look at the environment - both social (ever-increasing demands on school children for accelerated performance ) and physical (i.e. toxins that have a negative impact on the developing brain). Too complicated for a NYT article? Maybe. Urgently needed? Yes!


Interesting that Adderall was mentioned prominently in this article, and that it connotes "ADD for all." Here in New Mexico, the adult use of this amphetamine is off the charts. A few years back, using the state online computerized prescription monitoring program, I discovered that a patient was acquiring about 1,000 pills monthly from six different physicians, most of them psychiatrists. I've met numerous other adult patients chronically on Adderall, most of whom I doubted actually could clear a careful evaluation for ADHD. I have zero faith that any prescription I write for Adderall will not end up on the street. Yes, amphetamines will help you focus. Heck, meth users end up cleaning their kitchens 10 times in a row in one afternoon! So what? Prescription amphetamine abuse needs to be addressed the same way we've started dealing with prescription opioid abuse -- by starting mandatory, state medical board-initiated educational activities for prescribing physicians. I was at first little annoyed when I realized I was required to attend one of these courses on opioids in my state (which leads the nation in Rx opioid overdose deaths -- yay, Land of Enchantment!!), but after attending I have to admit that lots of docs need this course on pain management and opioids. Now we need one on ADHD management and amphetamines. And as for the pharmaceutical pushers -- oh, I mean companies, Adderall is to ADHD management as Oxycontin is to pain management.

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