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FEDERAL Health Minister Nicola Roxon's advisers were warned in August last year that drug company payments to a world-renowned US expert on ADHD could have tainted proposed new Australian guidelines for the drug.However, it was only last month that the National Health and Medical Research Council ordered a rethink of the guidelines - on how ADHD should be treated - because of concerns the doctor's research had been compromised by the drug company funding.
Health experts have urged the government to have ADHD treatment evaluated by experts without links to drug firms, saying the current board is too close to the industry, creating a risk that drug therapy could be elevated in treatment protocols.
US-based child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman is under investigation for failing to disclose much of $US1.6 million he received from drug companies between 2000 and 2007.
The draft guidelines governing Australian use of the drugs refer to Dr Biederman's research more than 50 times.
Dr Biederman has been credited with helping to fuel a worldwide spike in the use of anti-psychotic medicines in children.
In Australia, more than 420,000 prescriptions are written each year for ADHD medicines, which are part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
In 2007, about 60,000 patients were on ADHD drugs, about 47,000 of those being children.
Despite the explosion in prescription of ADHD drugs, such as Ritalin, there are no current guidelines for their use.
The former guidelines, written in 1997, were scrapped four years ago as new drugs and research had become available.
The Howard government appointed the Royal Australasian College of Physicians to draft new guidelines at a cost of $135,000.
But last year it was revealed that seven of the 10 people in charge of drafting the guidelines had financial links to ADHD drug manufacturers such as Novartis, which manufactures Ritalin.
West Australian Labor MP Martin Whitely wrote to the panel in July last year, warning that its work had been tainted by Dr Biederman's research. Mr Whitely raised similar concerns with Ms Roxon's advisers in August last year. Allegations against Dr Biederman were aired in The New York Times in June last year.
However, it was only last month that the panel was forced to rethink the guidelines. This was after the NHMRC, which is in charge of approving the guidelines, said it would not consider them until the concerns relating to Dr Biederman's work were resolved.
Mr Whitely, who has been a vocal opponent of medicating children for ADHD, said it was time for Ms Roxon "to throw out the draft guidelines and start again".
Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton criticised the minister for failing to act for more than 12 months.
Jon Jureidini, head of psychological medicine at Adelaide's Women and Children's Hospital, said he was concerned about the level of ADHD medication being prescribed, because there was no reliable research that proved its long-term effectiveness.
A spokeswoman for Ms Roxon said she had "some time ago" asked the Health Department to urgently work through this issue.