Telehealth firm fraud charges may worsen ADHD drug shortage

fraud - ADHD meds
Bruno Guerrero

Two executives at a telehealth start-up have been arrested and are facing allegations of fraud involving the distribution of medicines for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ruthia He, the founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Done Global, and the company’s clinical president David Brody have been charged with participating in a scheme to illegally distribute Adderall and other stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD over the internet, conspiring to commit healthcare fraud, and obstructing justice.

The Department of Justice estimates that they may have generated more than $100 million in revenue from the activity, which provided around 40 million pills to customers who paid for a monthly subscription, even if there was no medical need for them.

The service included a smartphone app that could be used to schedule appointments, coordinate refills, and track symptoms and medication use. It is the first criminal drug distribution prosecution related to telemedicine prescribing through a digital health company, according to the DoJ.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meanwhile, has warned that the case against Done Global could exacerbate an ongoing shortage of ADHD medicines in the US.

“Patients who rely on prescription stimulant medications to treat their ADHD and have been using this or other similar subscription-based telehealth platforms could experience a disruption to their treatment and disrupted access to care,” said the agency.

It estimates that as many as 30,000 to 50,000 patients ages 18 years and older across all 50 US states could be affected.

According to a DoJ statement, He and Brody targeted drug seekers with its telehealth network and spent “tens of millions of dollars” on deceptive advertisements on social media. They set up a sophisticated system to maximise revenues; for example, including an auto-refill function, which sent an automated request to prescribers each month so that users could get a fresh supply.

Moreover, Done Global refused to pay prescribers for any medical visits, telemedicine consultation, or time spent caring for patients after an initial consultation, discouraging follow-up care, and based its entire business model on the number of patients receiving ADHD medication prescriptions, it added.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also put out a statement on the arrests, alleging that He and Brody “preyed on Americans and put profits over patients by exploiting telemedicine rules that facilitated access to medications during the unprecedented COVID-19 public health emergency.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram noted that there have been shortages of ADHD medicines, including Adderall, since 2022, adding: “Any diversion of Adderall and other prescription stimulant pills to persons who have no medical need only exacerbates this shortage and hurts any American with a legitimate medical need for these drugs.”

If convicted, He and Brody each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and distribution of controlled substances counts. Brody has reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A statement from Done Global sent to pharmaphorum reads as follows:

"Done Global strongly disagrees with the criminal charges filed last week against our founder, Ruthia He, and Dr. David Brody, which are based on events that principally occurred between February 2020 and January 2023.  Since our founding, Done Global has worked to make mental health care accessible for tens of thousands of Americans trapped in a spiralling national crisis.  Done Global will continue to operate – and do everything in our power to ensure that tens of thousands of Americans that rely on us do not lose access to their mental health care.  At the same time, we will continue to support our clinicians as they exercise independent clinical judgment, practice evidence-based medicine, and provide best-in-class health care."

Photo by Bruno Guerrero on Unsplash