TV Show Links ADD Support Group, Drug Company

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A public-television documentary on attention-deficit disorder that begins airing this week questions the financial relationship between an ADD support group and the company that makes Ritalin, the most widely prescribed drug to treat the disorder.

The program, to be shown nationally on PBS channels beginning Oct. 20, suggests that the group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders has been secretive about the financial support it receives from the Ciba-Geigy Corp., the New Jersey-based company that makes Ritalin.

Officials of CHADD and Ciba-Geigy last week strongly disputed the charges in the documentary and said they had never set out to hide the fact that the company gives the group financial support.

But in the nearly hourlong program, parents say they were surprised to find out that a group they rely on is getting money from the company that makes the drug used in treating their children.

"It's a conflict of interest," Etta Fleischer, whose son is one of several children featured in the documentary, says in the program. The Fleischers, who live in Florida, give their son Ritalin, a stimulant drug intended to combat his chronic inattentiveness and hyperactivity. They had attended meetings sponsored by CHADD, the most prominent advocacy and support group for people affected by ADD. But they never knew that CHADD received money from the makers of Ritalin.

"Attention Deficit Disorder: A Dubious Diagnosis?" is part of "The Merrow Report," a documentary series on youth and learning featuring reporter John Merrow. It likely will fuel further debate on ADD and its treatment--often the subject of controversy.

It is estimated that 3 percent to 10 percent of school-age children have the disorder, which is characterized by an inability to concentrate, and, in many cases, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Concerns about the increasing number of children diagnosed with the disorder, the schools' role in such diagnoses, and the drugs used to treat ADD--all raised in the program--are not new. (See Education Week, Feb. 22, 1995.)

But the PBS documentary also suggests that CHADD has hidden its financial connections to Ciba-Geigy, and the program questions the accuracy of some of the group's informational materials, which parents and educators use.

'Not a Secret'

The show notes that when CHADD was founded in 1987 it had 600 members nationwide and a budget of less than $75,000. Now, the Plantation, Fla.-based group has 35,000 members and a budget of just over $2 million.

Ritalin, a brand-name version of methylphenidate, is the most widely used drug for treating ADD. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers methyl-phenidate a controlled substance and sets yearly production quotas. Citing shortages of the drug, CHADD, along with several medical groups, has petitioned the agency to reclassify the drug so that the quotas would be lifted. That petition is pending.

The show reports that since 1989 CHADD has received roughly $818,000 in "educational grants" from Ciba-Geigy. That money, which CHADD solicited, has gone to such projects as producing a public-service announcement for television, translating informational materials into Spanish, and supporting the group's conference.

In interviews last week, officials of both Ciba-Geigy and CHADD said that such a relationship was not a conflict of interest and that they had never tried to hide their ties. The practice of drug companies financing projects by patient-support groups is a common one, they said, adding they had no plans to sever their relationship.

CHADD officials said that an estimated 20 percent of the group's budget comes from grants from Ciba-Geigy and other companies that make Ritalin competitors.

But the program points out that Ciba-Geigy's support is not disclosed in many CHADD publications that go to parents and teachers.

The group's executive director, Leslie B. Roth, said last week that the grants were regularly reported to chapter coordinators and that at last year's national conference--attended by about 2,000 people--the group publicly thanked Ciba-Geigy for its funding. Since being interviewed for the program, CHADD has explained its funding connections in a member newsletter.

"This is not a secret. CHADD is not being bought," Ms. Roth said in an interview. "We have control over the projects and our policies."

Todd P. Forte, a Ciba-Geigy spokesman, said the company gives grants to dozens of other groups, such as the American Lung Association, whose membership includes people who take drugs made by the company.

The program also contends that some of CHADD's informational materials are misleading. Ms. Roth said the materials are based on the most recent research available and the group stands by their accuracy.

Comprehensive Treatment

The PBS program notes that CHADD has worked with the U.S. Department of Education on ADD-related issues, including an awareness campaign the department launched last winter.

Thomas F. Hehir, the director of the department's office of special-education programs, appears in the documentary. He said last week that the program implies that the department promotes the use of drugs to treat ADD--a notion he rejected.

Department materials emphasize that medication is not effective for all children and that treatment should include behavior management, counseling, and teacher and parent training, he said. "There is certainly some anecdotal evidence that the decision to medicate is taken too lightly. It should not be," Mr. Hehir said.

Both Ciba-Geigy and CHADD criticized the PBS program as being one-sided. But host Mr. Merrow--who formerly reported on education for "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour"--said last week that he stood by his report.

Regardless, outside observers last week said the program is sure to provoke discussion.

"This may cause some second guessing" among parents of children with ADD, said Ginny E. Markell, the vice president for programs for the National PTA. "Our hope is that parents seek appropriate advice."

Vol. 15, Issue 07

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