Legal Battle Over Ritalin Heats Up
Sept. 15, 2000 -- A major legal battle is shaping up over Ritalin, the drug taken by millions of school-age children to combat attention deficit hyperactivity disporder (ADHD). Class-action lawsuits filed this week in New Jersey and California seek to hold the drug's manufacturer and a major doctors' group responsible for alleged Ritalin-related problems.
The lawsuits, which are similar to one filed in Texas a few months ago, say that the maker of Ritalin conspired with the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to create an illness -- ADHD -- by making the definition of the disorder so broad that it could be applied to nearly any child.
Ritalin is a mild central nervous system stimulant used primarily to control hyperactive behavior in children. Estimates of the number of people under age 18 currently taking Ritalin vary, but the number of prescriptions written for the drug has increased dramatically in recent years, as have diagnosed cases of ADHD. The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information says 2 million to 3.5 million school-age children have the disorder.
The new lawsuits are expected to be particularly aggressive because several of the lawyers involved are veterans of the so-called "Tobacco Wars," in which individual state attorneys general filed and won class-action lawsuits against major cigarette companies for illnesses and deaths allegedly related to consumption of the companies' products.
Both Novartis, the manufacturer of Ritalin, and the doctors' group say they will fight the lawsuits.
A spokesperson for the psychiatric association tells WebMD the APA has not been served with the lawsuits filed in New Jersey and California. But in a statement issued two months ago in response to the Texas case, the association said it would "defend itself vigorously by presenting a mountain of scientific evidence to refute these meritless allegations, and we are confident that we will prevail."
Novartis also tells WebMD it has not yet been served with the lawsuits but issued a statement saying that "any charge that Novartis somehow 'conspired' with professional and/or patient third-party groups is unfounded and preposterous."
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Maryland-based nonprofit support group, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), also has been named in the New Jersey and California suits. The lawsuits allege that CHADD is part of the conspiracy because it has received funding from Novartis estimated at nearly $900,000. CHADD also has come under fire for petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify Ritalin, which would subject it to fewer controls and make it easier to obtain.