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Ritalin Makers Targeted

  • No rational person believes that 10 percent of American children are crazy.
By William Carmichael

More than a month ago, in the July/August 2000 Here's to Your Health!,* F.C. Blahut asked: "Are 10 percent of American children mentally disturbed?"

Blahut told you that the psychiatric drug Ritalin was prescribed to an estimated four million American schoolchildren each year -- which would indicate that the children were either mentally disturbed or misdiagnosed.

And, we told you that a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of Ritalin and psychiatrists who prescribe it was filed in Brownsville, Tex., last May.

Now, lawyers involved in class-action lawsuits against the tobacco industry, gun makers and health maintenance organizations have jumped on the bandwagon.

On Sept. 13, the big-time barristers courageously filed two national lawsuits against the makers of Ri talin.

The lawsuits, filed in federal courts in California and New Jersey, say the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, the drug's manufacturer, and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a professional group, conspired to create a market for Ritalin and expand its use.

The state suit includes the parents' group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CAADD) in the action.

For more than a decade, Ritalin has been increasingly prescribed for children in whom attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been diagnosed.

Here's to Your Health! told you:

... [t]he conflict with doctors and educators reflects a growing controversy about whether ADD and its variant ... ADHD are being over-diagnosed, causing children to be drugged for no reason.

The Texas suit alleges that the APA has expanded the definition of ADD/ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, the handbook of psychiatric diseases, over time so that more and more children would fall into this category.

In the Sept. 13 action, officials of Novartis Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Novartis AG, and the APA said they could not comment on the lawsuits because they had not seen them.

But representatives of each group said the accusations in the new lawsuits sounded similar to those in the Texas action.

At that time, Novartis said Ritalin, which is also known by its chemical name methylphenidate, had been used safely and effectively in thousands of children for more than 40 years and that it was the most studied drug used for attention deficit hyperactive disorder.

The psychiatric association called the accusations in the Texas suit "groundless" and an "opportunistic attack on the scientific process that underlies this effort."

The new lawsuits seek to halt what they call "unlawful practices" and ask that profits from sales of the drug be returned to consumers.

One of those bringing the latest lawsuits is Richard Scruggs, a lawyer from Pascagoula, Miss., who represented dozens of states in actions brought in recent years against cigarette makers.

Earlier this year, Scruggs also filed lawsuits against several health maintenance organizations charging that they had defrauded consumers by failing to provide them with treatments.

John Coale, a Washington lawyer who is also involved in the Ritalin lawsuits, said the litigation was brought because Novartis and the psychiatric group promoted the idea that many children had attention deficit order and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a way of expanding the market for the drug.

"They were giving this stuff away like candy," Coale said.

In March, the White House announced an effort to reverse a sharp increase in the number of preschool children using Ritalin, Prozac and other psychiatric drugs.

* Here's to Your Health!, July/August 2000, was included inside The SPOTLIGHT for 8/28/00, mailed to subscribers 8/18/00.