Original Paper

Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 43-52

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Shooting the Messenger: The Case of ADHD

  • Gretchen LeFever WatsonAffiliated withSafety and Learning Solutions Email author 
  • , Andrea Powell ArconaAffiliated withSafety and Learning Solutions
  • , David O. AntonuccioAffiliated withUniversity of Nevada School of Medicine
  • , David HealyAffiliated withCardiff University


Medicating ADHD is a controversial subject that was acutely inflamed in 1995 when high rates of ADHD diagnosis and treatment were documented in southeastern Virginia. Psychologists in southeastern Virginia formed a regional school health coalition to implement and evaluate interventions to address the problem. Other professionals with strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry launched ad hominem attacks on the coalition’s research and work. These attacks contributed to the work being terminated in 2005. In the ensuing years, ADHD drug treatment continued to escalate. Today, the national rate of ADHD diagnosis exceeds all reasonable estimates of the disorder’s true prevalence, with 14 % of American children being diagnosed before reaching young adulthood. Notable key opinion leaders continue to claim that there is no cause for concern, but with a message shift from “the prevalence is not too high” to “high prevalence is not too concerning.” This paper provides an object lesson about how innovative research can be derailed to the detriment of sound medical and mental health care of children when industry interests are threatened. Tenure may be the only option for protecting innovative research from specious attacks. The authors offer a summary of the data on ADHD drug treatments, suggest judicious use of such treatments, and add their voices to others who are once again sounding a cautionary alarm.


ADHD Overdiagnosis Behavioral intervention Prescription drug abuse Conflict of interest Academic freedom Key opinion leader Child development Public health psychology