Health Freedom Wins a BIG ONE...

October 26, 2001

 

Opinion by Tim Bolen

Health Activists all over North America can celebrate a major victory - one long overdue. The issues they have been carrying alone have reached the attention of the heavily armed warrior class - the big-litigation attorneys. That, in itself, is a victory.

The Cavalry showed up...

"Quackbuster" propagandist Stephen Barrett, must have lain on his basement floor for an hour last Thursday, kicking his feet in frustration. Barrett has been denigrating the complaints of parents and health activists who questioned the efficacy of Ritalin - and suggested alternatives.

Thursday was the day that the prestigious Wall Street Journal printed an article about two separate high profile law firms, one in New Jersey, the other in San Diego, announcing their dual attacks on Ciba-Geigy, the makers of the controversial drug Ritalin.

Barrett, a de-licensed MD, who also makes dubious claims about being a "retired Psychiatrist," operates a questionable website (www.quackwatch.com) where he holds forth to be an expert on almost any subject having to do with "Alternative Medicine." Barrett claims "Alternative medicine" is "health fraud." Barrett, however, has NO training, and NO experience, in ANY "Alternative Medicine" field.

Not only does Barrett misrepresent "Alternative Medicine," but he seems to misrepresent himself, even more. Barrett is NOT a licensed MD, and WAS NEVER a Board Certified Psychiatrist.

Ciba-Geigy, the makers of Ritalin, one of the most controversial of North American health issues, faces multi-billion dollar losses in litigation. This case could end them.

The article, printed in the New York Times is as follows:

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LAWYERS ALLEGE MAKER OF RITALIN, PSYCHIATRIC GROUP "CREATED" DISEASE

 

By RICHARD B. SCHMITT - Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The lawyers who brought you suits over tobacco, guns and health-maintenance organizations have a new target: Ritalin. Wednesday, plaintiffs' lawyers filed two suits, alleging that the maker of Ritalin, the commonly prescribed attention-deficit treatment, conspired with a psychiatric group to "create" a disease, and later hyped the drug's benefits. The cases, filed in California and New Jersey, seek billions of dollars in damages, and are likely to be followed by suits on behalf of consumers in other states, the lawyers said.

The legal action tracks a growing public debate over Ritalin. Most psychologists and psychiatrists believe that, at least in short-term use, the drug is safe and effective in treating so-called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But a vocal minority claims that ADHD has been over-diagnosed, and that Ritalin has been over-prescribed, including among many preschool children. Critics also say the long-term side-effects of Ritalin haven't been adequately studied. This spring, the issue drew the attention of the White House, which ordered up a study of ADHD drugs prescribed for very young children.

Ritalin has been distributed in the U.S. since the 1950s, originally by Ciba-Geigy Corp., which became part of Swiss-based Novartis AG, following a 1997 merger. Officials at Novartis, and another defendant, the American Psychiatric Association, said they hadn't seen the suits, although they had strongly denied any wrongdoing in connection with a similar suit over Ritalin filed earlier this year in Texas.

"Ritalin has been used safely and effectively in the treatment of millions of ADHD patients for over 40 years, and is the most studied drug prescribed for the disorder," Novartis said, in a statement responding to the Texas suit.

The American Psychiatric Association, in its own earlier statement on the Texas case, said the allegation that it had conspired with Novartis to create the ADHD diagnosis was "ludicrous and totally false," and said there existed "a mountain of scientific evidence to refute these meritless allegations."

Scruggs Leads Lawyers

In the latest suits, the lawyers are led by Pascagoula, Miss., plaintiffs' attorney Richard Scruggs, famed for helping negotiate the landmark settlements between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry in 1998, while earning his law firm an estimated $1 billion fee.

Other lawyers involved include members of the "Castano" group, a network of plaintiffs' lawyers that filed suits against the tobacco industry on behalf of smokers. Since the tobacco suits, some of the lawyers have launched cases against gun manufacturers, health-maintenance organizations and drug companies, including the manufacturers of the fen-phen diet cocktail. In Ritalin's case, they are also joining forces with lawyers in the previously filed Texas suit.

The Ritalin defendants "manufactured a disease," asserts Mr. Scruggs. "It has been grossly over-prescribed. It is a huge risk."

Class-Action Status Sought

The lawsuits, which seek class-action status, contend that Novartis and Ciba-Geigy, along with the psychiatric association, conspired to create a broad-based definition of hyperactivity disorders in the standard medical text used by doctors; that, the suits say, has had the effect of boosting sales and profits. Subsequently, Novartis and Ciba-Geigy employed false and misleading advertising, which played down the drugs' side-effects, and oversold the benefits, the suits allege.

The suits also name Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or Chadd, a Landover, Md., nonprofit support group, which has received financial backing from Novartis, according to the suit. Chadd officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Donald Hildre, a San Diego lawyer, said the suit in California was filed under a provision of the state's business and professions code, which provides for forfeiture of profits and huge fines, in instances where companies are found to have misled the public. He added that the same law was invoked in state litigation against tobacco companies.

The lead plaintiff in his suit, filed in San Diego federal court, is the son of a secretary at his law firm, who took Ritalin for five years. The New Jersey suit was filed in state court in Hackensack.

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Opinion by Tim Bolen (continued)

Supporters of Robert Sinaiko, MD, a California based doctor "Board Certified" in three specialties: Allergy, Internal Medicine, and Immunology, were delighted over the attorney's action, and are meeting to plan their own actions to "help" the attorneys.

Sinaiko, a disciple of famous Doctor Robert Feingold, MD was persecuted by the Medical Board of California (MBC), in a famous California case written up as the cover story of the April 1999 issue of Medical Economics Magazine. The eight page article titled "Is this Doctor Controversial Enough To Lose His License," talks about Sinaiko's battle with the (my opinion) "Quackbuster riddled" MBC. The MBC, in one of the most poorly written, poorly prosecuted, kangaroo court cases, blasted Sinaiko for "being on the wrong side of the Ritalin issue." Sinaiko (paraphrasing his actual words) had stated "Before you put a child on Ritalin, let's find out what may be causing that hyperactivity."

The two lawsuits fit right in with the interests of Sinaiko supporters who formed a nationwide organization, the "Progress In Medicine Foundation - Medical Defense Fund" (www.legalfund.org) to help Sinaiko. The grassroots organization raised close to $300,000 for the Sinaiko case, so far, and it is not over.

The Sinaiko case was designed by his Team One to be appealable - as it was felt that the MBC would condemn Sinaiko. The case now awaits a regular court hearing. Sinaiko, had gained huge support, not only of the "health freedom movement," but the California Medical Association (CMA), The Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL), and an impressive list of star rated witnesses from all over the United States. The arrogant MBC labeled all of Sinaiko's witnesses as "not credible" including a surprised, recently retired, Assistant Secretary of Health in the Clinton administration - Phil Lee, MD. Lee went on to become Governor Gray Davis's chief health advisor, and, I assume, helped the Governor pick 14 new MBC Board members replacing those that found Sinaiko guilty...

Sinaiko's MBC decision was personally signed by Pediatrician, Alan Shumaker MD, a former president of the notorious "Quackbuster Conspiracy" controlled Federation of States Medical Boards (FSMB). The FSMB (www.fsmb.org) official policy has been to copy Barrett's claim that all "Alternative Medicine," is health fraud. Governor Davis did not renew Shumaker's Board membership.

A significant number of Sinaiko supporters came from the ranks of the Feingold Association, a non-profit group which helps parents check their children's diets to determine if something in their eating habits may be causing childhood problems. Feingold proponents challenge so-called "conventional" wisdom that "diet doesn't account for more than 5% of hyperactivity problems." Health activists say that the so-called "conventional" wisdom people are using ONLY studies completed before 1982 - and ignore more recent studies which indicate 85% of children can be helped by a change in diet.