- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- ``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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