Lawyers filed two class actions last week against the company that makes Ritalin and the American Psychiatric Association, charging both with conspiring to expand the market for the drug used to treat millions of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One suit was filed in federal court in California, the other in a New Jersey state court.
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., the East Hanover, N.J.-based manufacturer of Ritalin, is the latest target of a team of lawyers based in California, Mississippi, and Washington who have pursued cases against such high-profile targets as tobacco companies, and gun makers.
Peggy Reali, a California lawyer involved in the suits, maintains that Novartis and the psychiatric association plotted to promote the diagnosis of ADHD, effectively ballooning the demand for Ritalin. Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, a patient-support group, has also been named as a defendant in the lawsuits.
Experts estimate that 5 percent of school-age children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. No diagnostic test exists for the condition, which is characterized by a short attention span and impulsivity. The steady rise in Ritalin use in the past decade has prompted health experts to question whether the drug is being overprescribed and whether children are being misdiagnosed.
APA officials said last week that they could not comment directly on the lawsuit because they had not seen it. But the California and New Jersey suits mirror another filed in Texas this year against both Novartis and the APA. In a response prepared for the Texas case, the APA called the charges “groundless” and an attack on the scientific process: “Allegations that [the APA] conspired with others to create the diagnoses [of ADD and ADHD] so that the medication could be used to treat these disorders are ludicrous and totally false.”
Novartis officials said last week that the latest cases had “no merit.”
In a statement, CHADD President Beth Kaplanek called the lawsuit “gravely irresponsible, as it has the potential to create immeasurable harm for people with ADHD.” No court dates have been set.