Novartis to push for Ritalin to be removed from drug list
Pharmaceutical giant Novartis Pharma K.K. is expected to apply to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to have the psychotropic drug Ritalin removed from a list of drugs used to treat intractable and protracted depression that are covered by health insurance, it has been learned.
Abuse of the drug has become widespread among young people who have become dependent on it.
The Minato Ward, Tokyo-based firm plans to make the application to the ministry in the near future after gaining approval from psychiatric and neurological academic societies.
According to the ministry, it is extremely rare for a pharmaceutical firm to apply to have a drug removed from such a list for treatment of a disease.
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate hydrochloride--a central nervous system stimulant.
It was first marketed in 1958, and also was found in 1978 to be effective in the treatment of the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
Ritalin was initially prescribed to treat mild depression, but as it is highly addictive and can excite or stimulate patients, many patients would request large doses of the drug from clinics or pharmacists.
Abuse of the drug increased rapidly during the 1990s, leading to its supply being restricted in 1998 to those with intractable or protracted depression.
However, sales of the drug increased, with 33.7 million pills being sold in 2006--up 20 percent from 2002.
Company moves against Ritalin after surge in addictions
A pharmaceutical company wants the government to end health insurance coverage for the stimulant drug Ritalin in treating depression because widespread abuse of the system by patients and doctors has led to addictions.
Novartis Pharma KK, based in Tokyo's Minato Ward, produces and distributes Ritalin, a central nervous system stimulant containing methylphenidate hydrochloride that has been approved as anti-depression medicine.
The company will soon ask the health ministry to withdraw the drug from the list of medicine considered effective against depression under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
If the withdrawal of Ritalin from the list is accepted, use of the drug for depression will not be covered by health insurance.
Patients can still obtain Ritalin, but they will have to pay the full amount for the drug.
The company hopes the extra personal cost for Ritalin will prevent or end people's addiction to the drug.
After receiving the withdrawal request, the ministry will consult the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council to make a final decision.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, it is extremely rare for a drug maker to seek the withdrawal of its medicine due to improper use.
Novartis Pharma earlier discussed the matter with academics and psychiatrists.
In 1958, when Ritalin was approved for use in Japan, patients with mild cases of depression could use the drug.
However, in 1998, Ritalin was designated for use only for sufferers of intractable prolonged depression.
In 1978, Ritalin was also put on the list of drugs effective against narcolepsy, a disorder involving the frequent and uncontrollable desire to sleep.
Ritalin is also used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The company fears that people have become addicted to the state of arousal caused by Ritalin, and that people are faking symptoms of depression to get prescriptions for the drug.
Narcolepsy, on the other hand, can be diagnosed with electroencephalographic tests and other scientific means.
Novartis Pharma will not remove Ritalin from the lists for narcolepsy or ADHD.
Ritalin is not the only drug for depression. There are new medications on the market that are just as effective as Ritalin for patients of depression, the company said.
Novartis Pharma said that since the mid-1990s, it has given papers to doctors requesting they make strict diagnoses of patients and proper prescriptions of Ritalin.
But some doctors have apparently been giving out prescriptions too easily, the company said.(IHT/Asahi: September 22,2007)