Being Big Pharma's Guinea Pig

A focus group meeting for attention deficit adults brought the good—free food, cash, an ADHD reunion—and the ugly—paperwork.
ADHD & the City | posted by Jane D.
Jane D.

I’m whoring myself, and not ashamed of using the ADHD diagnosis in these economically tough times. The other day I signed up to be a guinea pig in a focus group for a large pharmaceutical. The carrot was $125 in cash.

So I show up at 6 p.m. at this neat office in midtown Manhattan. We are told to fill out more paper, the bane of my ADHD existence. A pint-sized middle-aged woman points to a small pantry of sandwiches, potato chips, and M&Ms, and says we can help ourselves. Free food, my ears perk up.

As I’m biting into a sandwich, I spot Larry, one of the guys from the time-management focus group I attended a year ago, and then I see Bess, another girl from our posse. Wow, this is like an ADHD reunion. We immediately feel at ease in each other’s presence. Again and again, I compare the feeling of being among fellow adult ADHDers as returning home. Finally a place where I can be myself and not apologize. “Sorry” doesn't exist here.

It turns out that there are eight of us in the group, three women and five guys. I find it interesting that the men, except for Billy, who doesn’t even look old enough to drink, are all married, while we ADHD ladies are all single. Maybe men have a greater license for being disorganized.

Billy kind of scares me. He keeps picking at the dirt caked under his cuticles, and started folding napkins into paper airplanes. When his turn came to describe his history, he said he’d been given Ritalin since he was seven, and he was misdiagnosed with something called, “Tier Six, the ring of fire.” I’d never heard of anything like that before, but, in the annals of diseases, it sounded pretty terrifying. Thank God, it wasn’t a ring of fire but ADHD.

Later, Dr. Psych, who was running this focus group in the name of big pharma, asked him to describe what it was like to live with ADHD. “Torture,” he said, matter of fact. “I lie awake for five hours sometimes because the thoughts won’t stop. I start here, and end up there.” I shook my head and swallowed a familiar sorrow.

Dr. Psych asked if he’d ever gotten into any car accidents. “No, but I’ve been hit before,” he said. “Not very hard though, the car was going 35 mph.” It sounded really funny, even if it was sad.

Behind a tinted window was the big pharma’s representative. I could see the man's shadow and I wondered what the drug maker really wanted to know. Did they want to know how we were doing, if their ADHD medications were doing a good job, if they were failing miserably? If God couldn't change anything, how were they going to make it all better? I looked into the silvery reflection and grinned like a Cheshire cat, and stopped myself from sticking out my tongue at the human silhouette.

 
 
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