A child psychiatrist has widely expanded off label drug use for young children

Influence by the Numbers

How does a respected Harvard educator eke out a living on just a professor’s salary?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Adding fuel to the explosion

$1.6 million
The amount of consulting fees that “world-renowned” (according to the New York Times) child psychiatrist and Harvard professor Dr. Joseph Biederman accepted from drug companies between 2000 and 2007

(The Times adds that Dr. Biederman’s work “helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children.”)

$1.6 million
The amount of fees that Dr. Timothy E. Wilens (Dr. Biederman’s Harvard Medical School colleague) accepted from drug companies between 2000 and 2007

(The Times notes that, according to information gathered by Congressional investigators, both Dr. Biederman and Dr. Wilens accepted “at least” $1.6 million each.)

$1 million
The amount of fees that Dr. Thomas Spencer (a Harvard colleague of Dr. Biederman and Dr. Wilens) accepted from drug companies between 2000 and 2007

$0
The amount of fees that Dr. Biederman reported receiving from Johnson & Johnson in 2001

$3,500
The amount of fees that Dr. Biederman reported receiving from Johnson & Johnson in 2001 after he was asked by Senator Charles E. Grassley to “check again”

$58,169
The amount of fees that Johnson & Johnson representatives told Congress they paid Dr. Biederman in 2001

Less than $10,000
The amount of fees Dr. Biederman reported receiving from Eli Lilly in 2000

$14,000
The amount of fees that Eli Lilly representatives told Congress they paid Dr. Biederman in 2000

$10,000
The maximum amount of fees that Harvard allowed any single professor to receive from a drug company in 2000 if the professor was conducting research on a product produced by the company

(The Times reports that Dr. Biederman received a 2000 grant to study an Eli Lilly drug that treated attention deficit disorder.)

10 years
The time span during which the Times reports that the three Harvard colleagues aggressively promoted diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder, while also aggressively promoting the off label use of antipsychotic drugs, originally approved by the FDA to treat schizophrenia

500,000
The estimated number of U.S. children and teens who were prescribed antipsychotic drugs in 2007

20,500
The number of those children who were under the age of six

Industry darling

In the Times, Susan Resko, director of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, calls Dr. Biederman a “true visionary” and notes that he’s saved many lives and restored hope to thousands of families.

But one year ago, in the Boston Globe, Dr. Lawrence Diller charged that “the field of child psychiatry is afraid of Biederman.” And he added, “To politely challenge Biederman in public is to risk public retribution and ridicule from him and his team. Also academic researchers in child psychiatry risk losing their funding if they criticize this darling of the pharmaceutical industry”

Which brings us to one more number: 4,000
According to PBS’ Frontline, that’s the percent increase in the number of children diagnosed as bipolar in the decade since Dr. Biederman and his colleagues broadened the definition of the disease

Want to become a drug industry darling? No problem! Just change the guidelines, expand the numbers, and medicate as many children as possible.

Of course, you still might want to avoid lying to Congress.

Sources:
“Researchers Fail to Reveal Full Drug Pay” Gardiner Harris and Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 6/8/08, nytimes.com
“Misguided Standards of Care” Dr. Lawrence Diller, The Boston Globe, 6/19/07, boston.com
“The Medicated Child” Marcela Gaviria, Frontline, 2008, pbs.org