ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma, and the Making of an American Epidemic

Alan Schwarz, Scribner, 338 pages, $28. In the late 1930s, Smith, Kline & French acquired the rights to sell a powerful stimulant then called “benzedrine sulfate” and was trying to create a market for it. The company made quantities of the drug available at no cost to doctors who volunteered to run studies on it. The marketing campaign behind selling the drugs is one of the most aggressive in history and helped transform the nascent drug industry into the multinational Big Pharma. It also convinced parents, physicians and public health officials of the need for children to take these stimulants. This campaign is the subject of an important, humane and compellingly written new book called “ADHD Nation,” by Alan Schwarz, a reporter for the New York Times. Schwarz has no doubt that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a valid clinical entity that causes real suffering and deserves real treatment. But he believes that those who are disabled by the condition deserve a wider range of treatment options. “ADHD Nation” focuses on an unholy alliance between drugmakers, academic psychiatrists, policymakers and celebrity shills like Glenn Beck that Schwarz brands the “ADHD industrial complex.” The book should be required reading for those who seek to understand how a field that once aimed to ameliorate the behavioral problems of children in a broad therapeutic context abdicated its mission to the stockholders of corporations like Shire and Lilly.