Myth #5: ADHD Exists To Make Big Pharma Rich

ADHD Big Pharma

Myth #5: “ADHD Exists To Make Big Pharma Rich”

Conspiracy theorists take note: The discovery that neurostimulant medications can mitigate ADHD symptoms happened accidentally. In 1937. And, it took 50 years for the discovery to make its way widely into clinical practice.

(Chapter 20 of my book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? explains that chance discovery.)

Does this mean that we can always trust “Big Pharma” and its marketing tactics? No. That’s dangerous.

But in the case of ADHD, we know these medications help people. With all the trouble it takes to be diagnosed, get prescriptions filled, and so forth, there’s no way people with ADHD would keep taking these medications if they didn’t work.

Any action to dismiss ADHD and the medications used to treat it as a “Big Pharma” profit-making venture serves only to stigmatize peopole who face enough difficulties.

Stimulants and Humans: A Long History

We’ve known for centuries, perhaps eons, that mild stimulants promote focus and alertness for many people—yet they cause other people to become agitated. Consider the widely consumed stimulants tobacco, coffee, tea, and even sugar.

You might even say that individuals with ADHD—being on one extreme of typical human behaviors—need extreme amounts of stimulation to feel “right” or “clear.”

After all, for most of humankind’s history, the mere act of survival and finding enough food to eat involved plenty of stimulation. For some subset of the population, perhaps modern efficiencies and luxuries make it challenging to get sufficient amounts of brain-boosting stimulation—safely, prudently, healthfully, or consistently.

Then again, modern life is pretty darn complicated, requiring massive amounts of higher-order brain processing to survive, much less thrive.

The “Rivalry View”: Meds Vs. Psychoanalysis

Why did it take so long then for stimulants to be used routinely to treat ADHD? Theories abound, including the fact that early medications had more adverse side effects. Another theory involves—you guessed it— professional territorial rivalry.

unbalanced_custom_text_13854UCSF psychiatry professor Samuel Barondes, former chair of the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute of Mental Health, explains the “rivalry” view.

During the long decades that psychoanalysis held sway, many clinicians considered this type of “talk therapy” the first-line treatment for depression and schizophrenia as well as ADHD. They relegated medications to second-line treatments, if they thought of them at all.

“When psychiatric drugs were first introduced,” he recalls, “they were not warmly received by psychoanalysts, and there’s still some tension.”

Nowhere is this territorial rivalry more in evidence than France, where psychoanalysis swill holds sway. In fact, it’s not even much of a rivalry.

Read more about the situation in France:

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French Kids Don’t Have ADHD? Bien Sûr, Ils Le Font!

Vive La France! But Adieu To Its Abusive “Psychiatry”


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—Gina Pera


7 thoughts on “Myth #5: ADHD Exists To Make Big Pharma Rich”

  1. From someone who has done some consulting for companies involved in pharma: ADHD stimulants do not make any of them rich.

    Pharma makes money on patented medications, not the generic stimulants that are most often used to treat ADHD. Anything generic can be manufactured by any company, and not the original manufacturer.

    The real money makers for Big Pharma are the treatments that cost $50,000 or more a year per patient, not pills that they sell for pennies or nickels. In particular, the profit margins on generic pills are very small.

    1. Hi Oscar,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Stimulant sales have been largely very profitable.

      The issue now is with Big Generic. That’s who is selling stripped-down pills for pennies—and made whoknowswhere. And it is profiting handsomely.


  2. As a middle school teacher and a parent of a child with ADHD, I can’t thank you enough for this article. Personally and professionally, it is hard enough to convince people that the condition is even real let alone convince them of the benefits of medication. People who wouldn’t hesitate to take a couple of ibuprofen for a headache or a couple of pills for high blood pressure will balk at the idea of providing medication for ADHD.
    As far as getting my son’s medication, we have been very fortunate. We lucked into an excellent neighborhood pharmacy and have been able to develop a very good relationship with the pharmacists. They nearly always have his medicines in stock. And if for some reason they don’t, they always have it the next day.

    1. Hi Jim,

      You are most welcome! I’m happy you found this piece useful.

      Some day, the rest of the world will join us in the 21st Century, where we finally have answers for physical challenges that have vexed human kind for centuries…..eyeglasses, ADHD medication, and so much more!

      That’s brilliant of you and your pharmacy, to have that great working relationship. It can make such a difference. I cannot tell you how many adults with ADHD have told me they’ve grown so weary of the pharmacist giving them the hairy eyeball over the stimulant prescription….and never having the medication in supply, always changing vendors, etc. Good for you!


  3. Hi Ron,

    Thanks for sharing your professional experience. I’ve found that to be the case, too — the medication can boost everything. And it can make it more possible for some to do “everything else right.”


  4. It’s funny because it’s hard to even get my methylphenidate for my ADD. i have to wait until 2 days before i’m due for a refill and then pray the pharmacy has my meds. This last week the pharmacy that’s had it in stock for 6 months suddenly didn’t have it and i was stuck calling around to other pharmacies and i had to stick with CVS so they could see in their records i really do have a prescription, otherwise they won’t even talk to you about whether they have it in stock. I suppose they are afraid of robberies. It just makes every month so stressful wondering if they’ll have my medication or not. It’s so frustrating too, because i really need my meds to function, especially at work.

    1. Hi Jill,

      So true! I just asked a friend to write another essay on that very topic — the myth that Rx is an “easy fix”.

      Between trying to find (and pay for) a competent prescriber and the medication, you have to time it down to the minute to get a refill (not too soon, not too late!) and then you have to hope like **** that it’s in stock at the local drugstore. Which it’s usually not. And if it is, it might be some inferior generic. And the pharmacist might give you a shake-down for wanting “speed.”

      Easy fix, ha!


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