Psychiatrists’ Conflicts of Interest Taint Drug Recommendations for Kids

Nearly every week, we hear more evidence that American children are over-medicated, especially with drugs that affect mood and behavior. Most recently, a panel of experts has denounced the overuse of Risperdal, a powerful antipsychotic drug, for attention deficit disorder. The drug has too many side effects, including potential development of permanent muscle twitching, to justify its use in mild conditions like ADD for which other options exist, according to the expert panel convened by the Food & Drug Administration to advise it on labeling changes.

What is behind the explosion in use of antipsychotic drugs in children (besides Risperdal, they include Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon) is a drumbeat of support from leaders in child psychiatry. But that leadership is tainted by their ties to the drug industry — ties that frequently don’t get mentioned in public when these same doctors are lecturing their colleagues and advising worried parents. One leader, Dr. Joseph Biederman, a child psychiatrist at Harvard, was revealed by a Congressional investigation to have accepted $1.4 million from manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs that he did not disclose to his university. Another psychiatrist leader, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory, had to step down as chair of psychiatry after it was revealed that much of his consulting pay from drug makers, which totaled over $2.8 million in seven years, had been hidden from his university.

Now another influential psychiatrist has been exposed for his secret ties to the drug industry. He is Dr. Frederick Goodwin, former chief of the National Institute of Mental Health, who hosted a popular show on National Public Radio, “The Infinite Mind.” Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa released data to the New York Times showing that Dr. Goodwin received $1.3 million from drug manufacturers from 2000 to 2007 for giving marketing lectures to other doctors. The money was never mentioned on his radio show, and NPR now says the show has been canceled and all reruns will stop soon.

According to the Times’ Gardiner Harris, on one day in 2005, Dr. Goodwin received $2,500 from GlaxoSmithKline to give a talk about its mood stabilizer drug Lamictal at a Ritz Carlton resort in Florida. On his radio show broadcast the same day, Dr. Goodwin said that children with bipolar disorder who did not get treatment could suffer brain damage (a controversial prognosis) but he reassured his listeners that mood stabilizer drugs were a safe and effective way to treat the problem.

Senator Grassley has sponsored legislation to require drug makers to post publicly all the payments they make to doctor consultants. That would help the public to know whether the recommendations they see from doctors for medicating their children are truly unbiased or should be taken with a grain of salt.

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