There are currently 3.5 million American children on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication, up from 600,000 in 1990.
There were almost 16 million ADHD medication prescriptions written for adults ages 20-39 in 2012, compared to 5.6 million in 2007.
While these drugs certainly help many people, a report from the New York Times suggests that the rising number of prescriptions may not be do to better diagnosing, but simply better advertising.
Here are a few ads that showcase techniques the Times looked at:
A 2011 Shire campaign targeting adults used Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine as its spokesperson:
ADHD medications are amphetamines, powerful stimulants that can raise heart rate and blood pressure. They also increase dopamine and serotonin production in the brain, increasing happiness. CIBA originally marketed its stimulant Ritalin as a cure for depression, rather than an inability to focus, like in this 1957 ad:
Pharmaceutical companies have switched their focus to adults in the past few years, and their campaigns have been very successful. This Shire ad from 2006 represents a continuing trend at once again connecting adult ADHD with depression and failure:
Recent studies have show that the assumption that medication can raise the grades of inattentive schoolchildren should not be considered a fact, despite being a longstanding marketing ploy. In 2009, Janssen Pharmaceuticals released a high profile print campaign for Concerta that made this correlation:
Some ads target social disfunction in children, like this one for Adderall-maker Shire:
The Times found that the recent “Medikidz” comic book explaining ADHD and medication used to treat it was largely subsidized by Shire:
The FDA has cited every major ADHD drug — like Shire’s Adderall, CIBA’s Ritalin, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ Concerta, for false and misleading advertising since 2000.
To read more about the history of attention deficit disorder medication, check out the full story at the New York Times.
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