Lawsuits target drug makers, psychiatrists

The Associated Press
Saturday September 16, 2000

NEWARK, N.J. – Two lawsuits filed this week accuse the makers of the drug Ritalin and the American Psychiatric Association of encouraging overdiagnosis of behavioral disorders in children to boost sales of the drug. 

Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp. and the American Psychiatric Association promoted the belief that a large number of children need to take Ritalin for attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the lawsuits filed in New Jersey and California allege. 

A similar suit against the East Hanover, N.J.-based maker of the drug and the American Psychiatric Association was filed earlier this year in Texas. The latest suits were filed Wednesday in Superior Court in Hackensack and in San Diego federal court by some of the same attorneys who filed huge lawsuits against gun makers and the tobacco industry. 

Novartis and Ciba-Geigy Corp., which produced Ritalin before it merged to form Novartis in 1996, also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization of members with attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, the lawsuits say. 

And the companies and the American Psychiatric Association worked together to include the diagnosis of the two disorders and list it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980, creating a huge market for the drug, the lawsuits say. 

The companies released misleading sales literature about Ritalin’s effectiveness, “without ever advising ... that Ritalin usage would not stimulate or improve academic performance and/or have any long-term effect on the symptoms associated with ADD or and/or ADHD,” the California lawsuit says. 

Novartis released a statement Friday calling the charges “unfounded and preposterous” and noted that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder has been recognized by medical experts worldwide. 

The American Psychiatric Association also denied the allegations. 

“The APA will defend itself vigorously by presenting a mountain of scientific evidence to refute these meritless allegations and we are confident that we will prevail,” the association said in a statement. 

Between 4 percent and 12 percent of school-age children — about 3 million, mostly boys — are believed to have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The symptoms of short attention span, impulsive behavior and difficulty sitting still are also associated with youthful rambunctiousness, which has raised questions of whether youngsters are being overmedicated. 

Congressional hearings recently examined whether Ritalin, a brand name for the stimulant methylphenidate, is overprescribed for the disorders. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first guidelines earlier this year for diagnosing the disorders, stating that a child must show symptoms in two settings for at least six months. 

The lawsuits, filed on behalf of boys who took the drug in both New Jersey and California, say Ciba-Geigy Corp. began a conspiracy to boost the Ritalin market in the mid-1950s, leading to the creation of the ADD diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. In 1987, the diagnosis was expanded to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

The lawsuits say that the drug’s makers gave $748,000 to the California advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder between 1991 and 1994 to help promote Ritalin sales.