Personal Health

No, You Probably Don't Have Adult ADHD (Sorry Pharma)

Adult ADHD is likely another marginal "disease" trumped up by Pharma.

Photo Credit: Roobcio / Shutterstock

Adult ADHD has been a goldmine for Big Pharma.

"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," wrote the market research agency Datamonitor, in 2008.

Pharma promotion of Adult ADHD for no other reason than to sell drugs is aggressive and shameful. Adult ADHD "affects up to 5% of adults. However, fewer than 20% of adults with ADHD are currently diagnosed and treated," screamed a 2014 medical article in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. The authors not only had 11 financial conflicts of interests to Pharma, some were actual employees of Eli Lilly.

An ad on a Pharma-funded website tells doctors to "screen for ADHD" and warns that "adults with ADHD were 2X more likely to have been divorced." Another ad features a woman saying, "I'm depressed"" and proceeds to ask doctors, "Could it be ADHD? ADHD was found in 32% of adults with a depressive disorder. Look for ADHD in patients who present with depression."

In 2009, Shire, which makes the ADHD drugs Adderall, Vyvanse, the Daytrana patch and Intuniv, launched a Nationwide Adult ADHD Mobile Awareness Tour, which included a "mobile screening initiative" called the RoADHD Trip. Get it? The caravan, anchored by "the RoADHD Trip Tractor Trailer," turned into a tented area with eight "self-screening stations."

For the screening campaign, Shire said it was partnering with the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, "a leading adult ADHD patient advocacy organization, in an effort to assist up to 20,000 adults to self-screen for this disorder." Medical professionals could "learn" from Pharma salespeople, too! A "field-based team of experienced psychiatric nurses" would "provide in-office education to physicians and their staff on ADHD in adults," promised Shire.

Screening for health conditions that have no symptoms yet require expensive treatments is widely seen as nothing but a marketing device that leads to overdiagnosis, overtreatment and overmedication—and rising health care costs often on the taxpayers' dime.

And there was more Adult ADHD marketing, like McNeil's scheme in New York City for Concerta. "Pedestrians mulling around Times Square in New York City can learn more about ADHD by responding to an advertisement on the CBS jumbotron, via text message," reported an article in Medical Marketing & Media.

The 15-second ad—no attention problems there—read "Can't focus? Can't sit still? Could you or your child have ADHD?" and ran on a 26 x 20 foot screen four times an hour. When pedestrians texted "ADHD" to a certain number, they "received a near-instantaneous text message in return containing a link to the 'Concerta Mobile Web Experience,' a branded mobile-optimized platform for McNeil's ADHD drug,'" reported the article. Visitors to the McNeil website got a coupon for a 30-day free trial of Concerta.

Pharma, as it does with other "awareness" campaigns to drive expensive drugs, has funded "patient" groups to market awareness of adult ADHD. One front group known as CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), receives payouts from Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil division, Novartis, Shire US and UCB—all ADHD drug manufacturers. Eli Lilly makes Strattera, Johnson & Johnson makes Concerta, Novartis makes Ritalin and Focalin and UCB makes Metadate CD.

As Pharma does with its most expensive drugs, it relies on U.S. taxpayers to pay its outrageous prices. In 2010, CHADD lobbied for recognition of adult ADHD with the Social Security Administration and "the inclusion of AD/HD and other neurobiological disorders in the definitions/eligibility categories for government benefits programs such as SSI, SSDI, Medicaid, developmental disability, and vocational rehabilitation programs."

CHADD even told a Social Security Administration Advisory Panel that: "A subset of adults with AD/HD is unable to be gainfully employed because of the chronic, substantial inattention and executive functioning challenges caused by the disorder."

Now comes the news that—surprise!—Adult ADHD is likely another marginal "disease" trumped up by Pharma for no other reason than profiteering. "A new study suggests that adult-onset A.D.H.D. is rare—if it exists at all," says the New York Times this week. The study "all but ruled out adult-onset A.D.H.D. as a stand-alone diagnosis," and "Most apparent cases of adult-onset attention deficits are likely the result of substance abuse or mood problems."

Will doctors who were "educated" by Pharma salespeople about Adult ADHD continue to prescribe expensive drugs for a possibly nonexistent condition? More importantly, will the Department of Justice seek reimbursement for the millions taxpayers and taxpayer-supported health programs were bilked by Pharma?

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Random House)."