Advisory Committee Deficit Disorder

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  • 02/10/2006

During my tenure at the FDA I was the senior official in charge of advisory committees. I was proud to oversee a transparent, collegial, and scientific program crucial to the agency’s mission of protecting and advancing the public health.

Today I am upset and worried about the future of this process.

In the wake of FDA bashing for political and personal gain, the advisory committee process is spinning out of control. Witness yesterday’s unexpected chest thumping by members of the Drug Safety and Risk Management advisory committee

The panel voted 8 to 7 to propose a ‘black box’ warning for methylphenidate drugs, sold under the brand names Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin and Metadate, and on the amphetamines Adderall and Adderall XR, stimulants used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The warnings could be rescinded if future studies fail to definitely establish any risk.

But the harm to physicians (worried about law suits) and parents (worried about their children), and the children (who aren’t being appropriately treated) would have already happened. What makes this so very frustrating is that the committee didn’t make its recommendation for a black box based on the available data, members of the board said the recommendation was driven as much by worries that the drugs are being overused in the United States as by the possible side effects.

The FDA advisory committee process in the Age of Grassley seems to be “Science? We don’t need no stinking science.”

And even more frightening is Precautionary Principle creep.

According to the Associated Press, “The surprise recommendation has caught the Food and Drug Administration off guard.”

To say the least.

“You don’t want to overscare people with data that aren’t very solid,” said Robert Temple, director of the FDA’s office of medical policy. He said the drugs carry real benefit for some patients. Before the committee’s vote, Thomas Laughren, who heads the FDA’s division of psychiatric drugs, told the committee he didn’t “think we are there yet with this cardiovascular risk” in terms of justifying a black box.

Science? We don’t need no stinking science.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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