World leading ADHD ‘expert’ Harvard Professor Joseph Biederman sanctioned over hidden drug company money

The Boston Globe reported yesterday[1. Harvard doctors punished over pay, 2 July 2011, Liz Kowalczyk Boston Globe] (2 July 2011) that three Harvard Professors, Bierderman, Spencer and Wilens, who were referenced 82, 46 and 32 times respectively in the discredited draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD, have been sanctioned by their employer for allegedly failing to disclose millions of dollars in pharmaceutical company payments. [2. ‘On June 8 2008 the New York Times first exposed how Dr Biederman was paid US$1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers between 2000 and 2007 but did not disclose this income to his employer Harvard University. Gardiner Harris and Benedict Carey, ‘Researchers Fail to Reveal Full Drug Pay’. New York Times, 8 June 2008.] [3. Biederman received research funds from 15 pharmaceutical companies and serves as a paid speaker or adviser to at least seven drug companies. ‘The Evolving Face of ADHD: From Adolescence to Adulthood—Clinical Implications’. Available at (accessed 2 May 2008)]

The article states: ‘In a letter to co-workers yesterday, Biederman and Drs. Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens said the hospital and medical school “have determined that we violated certain requirements’’ of the institutions’ policies. They did not specify the nature of the violations. But in 2008, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, accused the three doctors of accepting millions of dollars in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007, and of failing for years to report much of the income to university officials. Officials at Harvard and Massachusetts General released the letter to the Globe, but would not answer questions about the probe. 

Although according to the Boston Globe ‘Biederman severed his industry ties soon after Massachusetts General and Harvard began their separate but coordinated investigations’ it appears he gets to keep the payments. However, the imposition of sanctions obviously confirms there was substance to the original allegations and should have serious implications for the Australian ADHD industry.

In November 2009 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) decided that because of the then uncompleted investigation into undisclosed drug company payments to these three high profile US researchers the draft national ADHD guidelines had not been approved. The NHMRC later issued a press release stating that ‘If the US investigation remains unresolved by mid-2010, NHMRC will move to redevelop the draft guidelines’. [4. NHMRC, ‘Draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD – NHMRC consideration deferred pending outcome of USA investigation’, NHMRC Noticeboard 2009. Available at (accessed 5 January 2010).] Despite this the mid 2010 deadline passed without action.

This was very disappointing as the Biederman scandal was not the only ‘conflict of interest’ controversy around the Draft National ADHD Guidelines. The guidelines committee was initially chaired by Dr Daryl Efron until his ADHD pharmaceutical company ties were exposed by the Daily Telegraph in April 2007. [5. ADHD guru quits over Ritalin link, Janet Fife-Yeomans, The Daily Telegraph 5 May 2007 ] Dr Efron had been on the advisory boards of Novartis (Ritalin) and Eli Lilly (Strattera). Media exposure of Dr Efron’s pharmaceutical company ties prompted then Health Minister Tony Abbott’s intervention and Efron’s resignation as chair, but not from the committee.

Freedom of Information processes also revealed the vast majority, at least 70%, but probably 80% ‘of the original (guidelines committee) group members, including doctors, have declared receiving grants and air fares, hotels and overseas trips from companies making drugs to treat the disorder.’ [6. Janet Fife-Yeomans, ‘Guidelines panel linked to drug firms’, The Advertiser, 17 November 2008, Available at,22606,24660999-5006301,00.html (accessed 4 October 2009).]

The appointment of Australia’s first Mental Health Minister, Mark Butler, has brought fresh hope of a ‘conflict of interest’ free redevelopment of the national ADHD guidelines. Hopefully the sanctions on Bierderman, Spencer and Wilens along with the new evidence of significant long term harm from ADHD medications from the Raine Study will be the catalyst for decisive action.

For full detail, including a timeline, of the corrupted draft national ADHD guidelines see For more information on the Raine Study see For more information on the Biederman, Spencer and Wilens scandal see Harvard Docs Disciplined For Conflicts Of Interest // Pharmalot

LATE UPDATE: Todays’ Australian (5 July 2011) has reported that at last the flawed draft national guidelines are being redeveloped. Provided this is a ‘conflict of interest’ free process this is very welcome news. see When further information becomes available I will issue an update.

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  1. Jen Hall’s avatar

    Thank you for another great article to share on as many websites as possible. So important to raise public awareness.
    I speak to clients regularly about effects of unnecessary drugging of children and yesterday one client was telling me about an appointment they have with a health care professional to assist their young teen who is experiencing depression.
    Alarm bells ring for me every time I hear this and I suggested if there is a prescription offered as treatment they may like to get a second opinion and definitely employ natural alternatives like age appropriate meditation. There is so much great research proving beneficial results with ADHD, Depression, PTSD and a range of mental afflictions.
    I am gathering a list of professionals in the mental health sector who prefer a drug free approach and offer them to people whenever I can. I would love to add to this list so feel free to contact me and add to my list especially in South East Queensland.


  2. Tom Grimshaw’s avatar

    Great site! Keep up the good work exposing the fraud and giving a venue to people to promote viable alternatives.

    Our son was always energetic (much more so after sugar and artificial colours and flavourings) and would have been ADHD labelled and drugged at school if he were born in a different time and to different parents.

    I feel truly sorry for parents and children being railroaded into accepting mind altering drugs because of authoritarian blindness to the laws of cause and effect. We must all do more to let them know simple, effective, non-drug solutions exist.


  3. Nathalie’s avatar

    Thank you for sharing this, I advocate and am passionate about changing child behaviour naturally, it is achievable with the right support. I have seen the changes and having been a school teacher and now a child behaviour consultant, there are so may diffrent avenues to help a child’s behaviour change, with out medicating. There are genuine cases but ther are also just quick fixes too.
    Unfortunately my work is not covered by medicare or heath funds. Although I do have paedriaticiansns and doctors who refer families to me.


  4. Kim Crawford’s avatar

    Fantastic that this is being exposed. No wonder there is such an increase in the drugging of our kids in Australia.
    Also I wonder how many people are aware that all of our children are to be screened for mental illness at 3 years old as part of the Healthy Kids Check. If we don’t screen our kids we are not going to get the family tax benefit! Hows that for freedom of choice and living in a democracy!!


    1. bj2circeleb’s avatar

      Kim I could not agree more with what you are saying, especially about the mental health check of 3 year olds. And the cutting of the Family Tax Benefit Suppplement to the equivient of about $800 is over the top, when you consider that we have an extra benefit for immunisation and even then it is only equal to $125, and parents can get an exemption from that, all that is required is to have a counselling session with a GP that explains the risks of not immunising.

      From the announcements and policies that have been released in regards to this mental health check for 3 year olds, and they are claiming to be able to pick up kids “at risk” of mental illness at that age, one would expect there to be more evidence to prove it and ways of preventing mental illness than there is of immunisation.

      The other thing that is irronical when you consider it all. No extra funding is to be given to child mental health services, all of these children will be able to be managed by GP’ s and given that they are also significantly cutting access to psychologists, exactly what is that, that GP’s are supposed to be doing to help these children at the age of only 3 to not develop a mental illness?? One wonders why they are not just putting all pregnant women on these medications if they are so effective, so the children can begin to get them in utero and then continue to hand them out when they are born. Why don’t we just put them in the water supply, tooth decay has never been as bad as they claim this mental health epidemic now is!!!!!

      The guy that came up with Labotomies won a Nobel Piece Prize for it, so is it any wonder that the person who claims to be able to predict which 3 year old will later develop a mental illness won Australian of the Year.

      When are people going to realise that Psychiatry is an art and not a science!


    2. Evelyn Pringle’s avatar

      Mr Whitely: Thank you for creating this excellent website with a wealth of information useful to researchers and journalists like myself.

      Evelyn Pringle


    3. Maria’s avatar

      You can’t do poorly in an ADHD test. ADHD test is not like an exam at scoohl. Maybe the word test is not the right word ADHD screening or ADHD diagnosis may be more accurate. The objective of the ADHD test, along with other factor, is to diagnose if you have ADHD. Most importantly. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that ADHD is a bad thing. ADHD could be the best thing that happens to you. It also means that you might be having problem focusing at scoohl because your mind wanders around, which is not a bad thing in itself. If you have ADHD, this is something you will need to learn to handle. Be cool, you are in a great company.



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