Nearly 2 million children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD, which is marked by poor concentration, lack of self-control and/or hyperactivity. Besides time off from school, many kids with ADHD get a summer "vacation" from the prescription medications that help them focus in class.
So August has become a prime time to market the idea that a change in drug for the new school year (Concerta to Adderall?) might help the kids focus better, keep them going longer or have fewer side effects. Direct-to-parent marketing of ADHD drugs -- most of which are stimulants -- has grown pervasive over the last few years, despite a United Nations treaty banning most of it. Use of such medications increased by more than 60% from 2001 to 2005, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.
This month's homemaker-targeted magazines, such as Family Circle, Woman's Day and Redbook, feature advertising spreads for Vyvanse, Shire US Inc.'s new entry in the growing stable of ADHD medications. The ads show "Consistent Kevin through the day, even through homework," picturing a well-groomed boy smiling as he wields his pencil through a work sheet, and "Consistent Sarah," who even at 6 p.m. contentedly pecks away at the piano keys. ...
Drug companies would argue that increased production and use of ADHD drugs are the result of better diagnosis and treatment. But the International Narcotics Control Board holds advertising responsible. In a report earlier this year, the board noted that from 2001 -- when the ads first appeared -- to 2005, medical consumption of methylphenidate increased by 64%. [Emphasis added]
How is it that the drug manufacturers are getting away with this kind of advertising in violation of the UN treaty? Simple. In 2001, when called on this practice, PHARMA told the Justice Department it would fight the treaty by raising the drug corporation's "First Amendment Rights." Predictably, this Justice Department backed down.
As a result, a whole lot of parents are rushing to their pediatricians, advertisements in hand, and demanding a diagnosis and a prescription just in time for school, whether their kids are truly stricken with ADHD or not. Unfortunately, many pediatricians have thrown up their hands and caved in to these parents.
The UN ban on advertising wasn't about depriving kids who need the medication of their ritalin; it was designed to stop the kind of sloppy diagnoses such advertising engenders. It also was designed to keep the drugs, most of which are stimulants, out of unlocked home medicine cabinets where teens looking for an easy high could get at them.
It's about time the FDA and Justice Department revisited the whole issue and took on the pharmaceutical industry.
Maybe in the next administration, eh?