At a Glance

Survey reputation test for 'chemical cosh' Ritalin

RITALIN? ISN'T THAT THE HYPERACTIVITY DRUG?

Yes, Novartis' Ritalin has sometimes slyly been termed the 'chemical cosh' because of its use in calming children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Over the years, there has inevitably been suspicion - perhaps unfairly - that some parents and doctors are rather too willing to resort to it to control 'high spirited' kids. Ritalin is perhaps the best known of the so-called 'cognition enhancing' drugs.

WHAT DOES THE SURVEY SAY?

Results published last week in the science journal Nature found that one in five of 1,400 respondents used cognition enhancing drugs, mainly to improve concentration - the practice is known in academic and scientific circles as 'brain doping'. The most popular of these was Ritalin.

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH THAT?

These people were using it without prescription, which is a big no-no. And there was another significant admission in the replies to the survey: although the majority of respondents believed children should be protected from such drugs, one third admitted they would feel pressure to give them to their own offspring if other children were taking them to get better grades. It all has implications on Ritalin's reputation, because no brand wants to be associated with misuse.

HOW HAS THE COMPANY RESPONDED?

By restating key safety messages. Jason Browning, comms director of Novartis UK, emphasised that the drug should be used only in its labelled indication, and then only under instruction from a medical professional. He told PRWeek: 'Messaging must always put patient safety first. If we do that in all our comms, (good) reputation follows.'

TELL US ABOUT THE COVERAGE.

Nature has an international readership and coverage reflected this. As well as The Guardian and The Independent, outlets that carried the story included Reuters, AFP, Washington Post, ABC in Australia and Canada's The Globe and Mail. It also made science titles such as Wired.

HOW DID NATURE GET THE STORY OUT THERE?

Ruth Francis, head of press for the Nature Publishing Group, put out a release on the results and directed journalists to a password-protected site for the full results. The magazine used its own social networking site, called Nature Networks, to conduct the survey. Further information: www.nature.com.

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