Lawsuits Assert Drug
Makers And Shrinks Invented
'ADHD' To Sell Ritalin
By Edward Tobin
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Richard Scruggs, the lawyer who led the settlement between U.S. states and the tobacco industry in 1998, called the lawsuits against the makers of hyperactivity disorder drug Ritalin the country's ``next class-action battleground.''
The Mississippi attorney heads up a group of plaintiffs' lawyers alleging in two lawsuits that the makers of the drug had conspired with psychiatrists to ``create'' the disease known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Scruggs, who got his first taste of national class action suits with a successful run at the asbestos industry before tackling big tobacco, contends that the health of more than 4 million children is at stake because they are taking a drug that they do not need.
The two cases, filed in state court in Hackensack, N.J. and in San Diego federal court, name Swiss health care group Novartis AG (NOVZn.S), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and nonprofit support group called Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
The suits seek class action status and billions of dollars in damages. The allegations are denied by both the company and the APA.
``The main complaint is that they (the defendants) have inappropriately expanded the definition of ADHD to include 'normal' children so that they can promote and sell more drugs and treat more people,'' Scruggs told Reuters in a phone interview Thursday.
``These suits represent the latest class-action battleground in the U.S., but since it involves kids, this is that much more important. Ninety percent of all Ritalin is sold in the United States. We think it's a pretty tough case to say that ADHD is a disease that doesn't exist in Europe, but exits here,'' he said.
Government officials, pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals have debated over the prescribing of Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children for some time. The drug has been on the market for over 40 years, but it came under intense pressure when the White House launched an initiative in the spring to cut down on the number of children using the treatment, known by the chemical name methylyphenidate.
A Novartis spokesman in Zurich said he could not respond directly to the U.S. suits because he had not yet seen them. But he dismissed the allegation that Novartis conspired with the American Psychiatric Association to invent the disorder.
``We don't think there is any merit in such class actions,'' he said, referring to a similar suit filed in Texas in May. ``We cannot see that we have any wrongdoing in this field.''
Regina Moran, a Novartis spokeswoman at the U.S. pharmaceutical division in East Hanover, N.J., said the company still had not been served with papers pertaining to the suits as of late Thursday evening. She did point out, however, that Ritalin has been on the generic market for many years.
``Eighty percent of the market is generic right now, so it is a mature product for us,'' she said.
An official for the Washington D.C.-based American Psychiatric Association also cited similarities to the Texas suit, and had not seen the suit. But she said as in the Texas suit, 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.
Scruggs, who tallied up $400 million in legal fees from the settlement with the tobacco industry, said public health was the main motivator in the Ritalin case, and the ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to change the way the drug is prescribed.
``Right now, virtually every child would fit the diagnostic criteria today for Ritalin. They are exploiting the fears of parents for the welfare of children to gain inappropriately, and I think that is very reprehensible and it can have a widespread affect on the health of American kids,'' he said.
The lawyers are seeking certification of a nationwide class, Scruggs said, and expect others will follow suit on basis that ``the criteria for disease are artificially broad so that they can include more kids and sell more drugs.''
But one industry expert was skeptical that such a suit would get very far.
``My sense is that the symptoms of ADHD are pretty well defined and there are a number of clinical criteria required before a child is allowed to go on the drug,'' Merrill Lynch analyst James Culverwell said from London.
``When the child does take the drug, it is generally remarkably effective. So any suggestion that this disease is make-believe seems highly unlikely,'' he said.

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