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TV REVIEWS : Probing the Claims of Anti-A.D.D. Drug

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Never mind the mini-ad for program co-sponsor Toyota at the beginning of PBS’ “Attention Deficit Disorder: A Dubious Diagnosis?” Commanding, silver-haired host John Merrow is no corporate servant: His investigation of A.D.D. and the network of nonprofit groups and pharmaceutical companies promoting therapies for this so-called “disorder” is a case study of the corrupting influence of corporations in American life.

Merrow launches his report benignly, describing A.D.D. in the ways that many neuroscientists and the key A.D.D. nonprofit support organization, CH.A.D.D. (Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder), have described it. Hyperactivity, lack of mental focus and behavioral disruptions, we’re told, are all signs of A.D.D.--an ailment caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Such psychostimulants as Ritalin, Cylert and Dexedrine supposedly correct this imbalance and eliminate A.D.D.

We hear from families who testify to the efficacy of these drugs--especially Ritalin, manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Ciba-Geigy and the best-selling of the psychostimulants. Students such as Darren Fleischer can actually concentrate on their work for maybe the first time in their lives. Ritalin, insists CH.A.D.D. co-founder and doctor Harvey Parker, works.

Having soothed frustrated parents everywhere, Merrow then swoops in for the kill. His investigation surgically dismantles both the medical claims of CH.A.D.D. and Ciba-Geigy, while exposing a direct financial relationship between the nonprofit group and the company.

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Attendees of CH.A.D.D. meetings describe how Ritalin is quickly sold as the magic bullet. Claim after claim in CH.A.D.D. literature is shown to be dubious at best or unfounded at worst (such as the assertion that psychostimulants aren’t addictive). Ritalin’s nasty side effects are consistently soft-pedaled by CH.A.D.D., but not forgotten by teen-age boys who describe their Ritalin nightmares to Merrow.

Even more damaging is Ciba-Geigy’s very quiet support of CH.A.D.D. that has totaled hundreds of thousands in grant dollars since the late 1980s--which so happens to be the time when A.D.D. became an increasingly cited ailment among young, white males in elementary and junior high schools.

When confronted with this news by Merrow, CH.A.D.D. supporters are stunned at what appears to be the case of a nonprofit functioning as the pill-pushing, public-relations arm of a very profitable company. (How profitable? Ciba-Geigy won’t say.)

Parker’s insistence that he isn’t bought by Ciba-Geigy is one of this year’s most stunning TV moments: A man of medicine looking trapped in the money-laden grip of the legal drug world, but declaring that the trap, the money and the corruption aren’t there.

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By the way, Darren Fleischer wants his mom and dad to get him off Ritalin--like yesterday.

* “Attention Deficit Disorder: A Dubious Diagnosis?” airs at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.


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