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Big Pharma's Newest Money-Making Scheme: Adult ADHD

Who belongs to this “untapped” market? Just about anybody.

There is good news and bad news about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- that is, if you’re a drug company. The bad news is the kid market has peaked out with 4.5 million U.S. children now carrying the label. The good news is adult ADHD is an emerging market. In fact, adult ADHD, with symptoms similar to pediatric ADHD such as impulsivity, distractibility and difficulty paying attention, following instructions and meeting deadlines, is the next big thing.

"Immature adult market continues to offer greatest commercial potential," read a 2008 press release to the pharmaceutical industry from the market research agency Datamonitor: "Estimated to be twice the size of the pediatric ADHD population, the highly prevalent, yet largely untapped, adult ADHD population continues to represent an attractive niche to target."

So who might consider themselves part of this “untapped” market?

Like astrology in which anyone relates to Scorpio's horoscope, almost everyone who takes an adult ADHD quiz will discover they are “sick.” To qualify as having attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder according to the most recent draft of the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5, soon to be published, you need to suffer from six or more of the following symptoms for at least six months.

  1. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate).
  2. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or reading lengthy writings).
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction).
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked;  fails to finish schoolwork, household chores, or tasks in the workplace).
  5. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks; difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganized, work; poor time management; tends to fail to meet deadlines).
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework; for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers).
  7. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, or mobile telephones).
  8. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities (e.g., chores, running errands; for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments).

Who doesn't have six of those characterizations? And who doesn't have a neighbor or an in-law who has all of them?

Although some people who are sufferers claim great improvements with ADHD drugs, the broad criteria and aggressive marketing from drug companies leave open the possibility that many more people will become medicated who really don’t need to.

Big Pharma is cashing in no doubt, but at what cost?

Even people who say they or their children are sufferers can't ignore the lucrative ADHD franchise Big Pharma has built off the disease. Examples of prices on ADHD drugs, for 100 pills at a middle dose at in May 2011 were: Adderall $410, Adderall XR $791, Vyvanse $588, Intuniv $579, Ritalin $140, Ritalin SR $286, Ritalin LA $502, Concerta $651, Desoxyn $539, Dexedrine $741, and Strattera $635. The cost of one box of Daytrana 9-hour 20mg patches was $182.

It is no accident so many have drunk the ADHD Kool-Aid (one ADHD drug is actually a  grape syrup marketed with the slogan "Give 'em the Grape"). Big Pharma has funded several patient front groups to sell the disease of ADHD without people knowing they are being sold.

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