The increasing number of class action lawsuits filed regarding the drug Ritalin has pharmaceutical industry officials worried. Some of the same plaintiffs' lawyers responsible for securing multi-million dollar settlements as part of the massive tobacco litigation have joined forces to litigate a myriad of issues surrounding Ritalin.
These new lawsuits center on claims that the manufacturer of Ritalin, Novartis Corp., worked with the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and a group called CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, to effectively promote Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a chronic problem and to push Ritalin as its treatment. Plaintiff's lawyers claim that psychiatric professionals have come forward with stories of pressure from the APA to promote Ritalin and ADHD.
The first Ritalin suit was filed in May 2000 in Texas. Thereafter, suits were filed in Puerto Rico, Florida, California and New Jersey. In order to develop strong cases, the plaintiffs' firms have all agreed to work together. A litigation coordinator, also a product of tobacco litigation, was hired to coordinate this effort. Since most of the law firms involved in Ritalin litigation are small, generally under 10 attorneys, it is essential that they cooperate, in order to utilize their individual strengths. An attorney in Washington, D.C. is serving as the litigation coordinator, organizing weekly conference calls where different tasks are assigned. The coordinator is also responsible for public relations regarding the litigation.
The plaintiffs' lawyers have focused on the U.N. Convention on Psychotropic Substances, a treaty that prohibits drug companies from directly marketing certain prescription drugs to consumers. The Convention classifies Ritalin as a Class II substance, a category consisting of drugs such as LSD and cocaine. The lawsuits contend that, through CHADD, Novartis promoted its drug directly to consumers. Records indicate that Novartis gave the organization nearly $800,000 between 1991 and 1994. The suits claim that CHADD used this money to promote ADHD and Ritalin in violation of the treaty.
The lawsuits also take issue with Ritalin's promotion as an "effective" drug. Attorneys claim that Ritalin does not improve educational performance in individuals diagnosed with ADHD. The lawyers also say that, while the drug was directly marketed to consumers and promoted for widespread use, consumers were not informed of the drug's side effects, which can be serious.
The lawsuits demand full disclosure of the potential effects of the drug and want Novartis to issue a statement that Ritalin is not effective as a long-term treatment. Additionally, compensatory and punitive damages are sought.
Representatives of both Novartis and CHADD have made statements supporting ADHD as a valid medical condition. Additionally, Novartis points out that the American Medical Association, the Food & Drug Administration, and the American Psychiatric Association have all recognized ADHD and Ritalin's role in treating the disorder.
The impetus behind these lawsuits may be the book, Talking Back to Ritalin. Peter R. Breggin, M.D.'s 1998 book was the first to claim a conspiracy between the APA, CHADD and Novartis. Breggin has been in contact with several of the attorneys who filed Ritalin suits. Breggin vehemently criticizes the use of drugs like Ritalin for psychiatric and psychological disorders.
According to the plaintiffs, the ultimate goal of the litigation is to focus attention on the pharmaceutical industry to effect change as the tobacco litigation did in that industry.