How much is 13 billion dollars worth? It’s enough to put you in the top 100 richest people in the world, or out rank 70 country’s GDPs. It’s also the annual revenue pharmaceutical companies generate on ADHD medication in the United States. ADHD diagnosis have been on the rise in the last decade, putting it second only to asthma as the most common childhood diagnosis. For many of the 11 percent of kids in America with an ADHD diagnosis, the answer has been to throw pills at the problem.
But is it effective? One study that followed students for more than 3 years didn’t find any increase in performance or improved grades. The amphetamine Adderall is chemically similar to methamphetamine and causes a similar reaction in the brain. Both increase synaptic levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The long term effects of amphetamine abuse on the brain are not totally known and some researchers believe long-term usage could lead to permanent damage. Many of the trials of amphetamines that established it as safe were tested on rodents in short high doses, which is very different than incremental long-term usage in humans.
But what about the organizations that protect Jack and Jill hyperactive? Over time the American Psychiatric Association has expanded the symptoms for diagnosis, causing some to think finances is a motivating factor. The APA receives between 20-30 percent of their yearly funding from drug companies.
One of the leading ADHD advocacy groups, CHADD, receives around $1 million a year from pharmaceutical institutions. And the FDA, well half a billion dollars a year of its budget comes from the fees that drug companies give it to look at their new drugs. One group that profits from more diagnosis and more prescriptions are those who take the amphetamine medication recreationally. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of people abusing ADHD medication sky rocketed from 4.7 million to 8.2 million. Adderall is the second most taken drug among high school seniors. And one poll found that between 16-29 percent of children with prescriptions have been asked to give, sell or trade their medication.
From big pharma to the black market, ADHD is a profitable diagnosis.