What came first: the disorder, the cure, or the marketing campaign to sell both?
“You’re talking about a product that’s having a major impact on brain chemistry. Parents are very susceptible to this type of stuff.” –Roger Griggs, pharma exec who now objects to ad campaigns
In the case of medicating a generation of children who were said to be “unusually hyperactive,” the answer to that question is addressed by an in-depth investigation by the New York Times on Monday showing that the meteoric rise of diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.)—a trend that spawned a pharmaceutical gold rush over the last twenty years—was, in fact, fueled by an industry-led marketing campaign that targeted struggling children, worried parents, and an army of doctors willing to diagnose and prescribe.
And what’s worse? The deep-pocketed, pill-pushers are now looking to expand.
As the Times reports:
Dr. Keith Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University—who called the rising rates “a national disaster of dangerous proportions”—points out that though A.D.H.D is likely to occur in only 5 percent of the population, 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 soared from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million today.
“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” he told the Times in an interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”
In example after example, the marketing push created by the drug manufacturers show happy children and happy parents citing the wonders of the drugs, which go by their increasingly well-known names—stimulants like Adderall, Concerta, Focalin and Vyvanse, and nonstimulants like Intuniv and Strattera. As the Times reports, every single one of the companies who market these pills has been fined by the FDA for false advertising.
“The decision to start long-term medication should be motivated by observations of patients and physicians, not stimulated by rosy ads.” –Kurt Stange, professor of family medicine
But the ads keep coming, it seems, because the ads work.
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