Saturday, December 15, 2007

NYU Ad Campaign Child Ransom Notes - We have your son

"We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.

"This is one of six "ransom notes" that are part of an aggressive advertising campaign unleashed in New York City by New York University Child Study Center.

The irresponsible ad is reminiscent of the 1988 Willie Horton presidential campaign ad--

However, unlike the Horton ad the NYU ad has the seal of approval by a prestigious medical institution--and it specifically targets 12 million children and their parents, scaring them with false threats and unsubstantiated claims.

Even as the world expresses shock by the number of US children being labeled as mentally ill and drugged with powerful psychotropic drugs, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, the founder and director of the NYU Child center makes thefollowing patently false claim: "Children's mental disorders are truly the last great public health problemthat has been left unaddressed.

"Dr. Koplewicz was a co-author of a discredited report that had made false claims about the findings of a pediatric trial testing Paxil, study # 329: That report misled doctors by stating the drug was found to be "welltolerated and effective" for children. The authors' false claims were refuted by the drug manufacturer's internalmemorandum indicating that only the positive data from study 329 would be published--not the negative findings. The evidence that the report about study 329 was false led (then) NYS Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, to file suit against GlaxoSmithKline, for concealing the negative findings.

In the New York Times, Dr. Koplewicz compares children's alleged problems to AIDS: "It's like with AIDS.

"This is a demonstration of the assaultive tactics used by psychiatry today--in particular, academic psychiatrists and university based medical centers that are under the influence of their pharmaceutical partners.

The ad campaign has been formulated by BBDO, a major direct to consumer prescription drug advertising firm.

These modern snake oil salesmen pose a menace to children and they should be stopped.

We ask the NYS Attorney General's office to investigate.

If Dr. Koplewicz et al are not stopped, the campaign will be hitting the rest of the country: "We're going to see how it goes in New York," Dr. Koplewicz said. "If it goes well, we're going to go to four other cities."

Reference:Keller MB, Ryan ND, Strober M, Klein RG, Kutcher SP, Birmaher B, Hagino OR, Koplewicz H, Carlson GA, Clarke GN, Emslie GJ, Feinberg D, Geller B, Kusumakar V, Papatheodorou G, Sack WH, Sweeney M, Wagner KD, Weller EB, Winters NC, Oakes R, McCafferty JP. Efficacy of paroxetine in the treatment of adolescent major depression: A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2001, 40:762-772.

"THE New York office of BBDO Worldwide makes a belated entrance this week into one of the advertising industry's more lucrative categories with the creation of a division dedicated to pitching prescription drugs directly to consumers." The New York Times: THE MEDIA BUSINESS: BBDO Worldwide enters the lucrative category of marketing prescription drugs to consumers. by COURTNEY KANE February 20, 2003.

ALLIANCE FOR HUMAN RESEARCH PROTECTIONPromoting Openness, Full Disclosure, and Accountability and

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav 212-595-8974

Advertising Campaign on Childhood Mental Illness Succeeds at Being Provocative

By JOANNE KAUFMAN, The New York Times December 14, 2007

We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. - Autism

SO reads one of the six "ransom notes" that make up a provocative public service campaign introduced this week by the New York University Child Study Center to raise awareness of what Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the center's founder and director, called "the silent public health epidemic of children's mental illness."

Produced pro bono by BBDO, an Omnicom agency that worked on two previous campaigns for the Child Study Center, the campaign features scrawled and typed communiqu├ęs as well as simulations of classic ransom notes, composed of words clipped from a newspaper.

In addition to autism, there are ominous threats concerning depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger's syndrome and bulimia . The campaign's overarching theme is that 12 million children "are held hostage by a psychiatric disorder.

"The public service announcements began running this week in New York magazine and Newsweek as well as on kiosks, billboards and construction sites around New York City.

"Children's mental disorders are truly the last great public health problem that has been left unaddressed," said Dr. Koplewicz, adding: "It's like with AIDS . Everyone needs to be concerned and informed."

In some quarters, however, the campaign has raised hackles as much as awareness. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a national grass-roots organization of children and adults, is circulating a petition asking the Child Study Center to end the campaign.

Kristina Chew, founder of the blog Autism Vox, which has a link to the petition, says that "the reaction has been mostly outrage from parents of special-needs children, autistic adults, teachers, disability rights advocates and mental health professionals."

"It's rallied them around one issue, and these aren't people who normally agree about treating autism," said Ms. Chew, who lives in Bernards Township, N.J., and has a 10-year-old son with autism. She says her blog attracts 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day; traffic is up a third since the campaign was introduced, she said.

"It emphasizes a lot of negative aspects," she said. "To say that autism or bulimia has kidnapped a child suggests that these conditions are part of a criminal element. I'm not saying it's easy to have an autistic child, but it could be framed in a more positive way."

Vicki Forman, an adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of Southern California whose 7-year-old son is blind and nonverbal, learned about the campaign on Ms. Chew's blog and said it made her distraught. "The idea of an autistic person being held hostage is a very disturbing and backward image," she said. "Rather than promote public awareness, this reinforces stereotypes - that there is something damaged about the autistic person, something in need of a repair."

According to Dr. Koplewicz, the campaign was inspired by filmed conversations of parents and children talking about life with a psychiatric disorder. "These families felt their children were trapped by their disorders," he said.

John Osborn, the president and chief executive of BBDO New York, said the effort was intended to increase the sense of urgency about the diseases and encourage conversation. "It's tricky because there are a lot of messages in the air, particularly at holiday time. That makes it a challenge to cut through the clutter."

BBDO's earlier ads for the Child Study Center - which included images of a child running happily through a sprinkler and a drawing of a child caught in a maze - "were wonderful, but they didn't get this kind of attention from anyone," Dr. Koplewicz said. "They were too pleasant and innocuous. That's the reason we decided to go along with BBDO.

"He was further emboldened, he said, by the reaction of focus groups of women whose children have the disorders mentioned in the ads. "Everyone who participated felt the ads were informative," he said. "While we knew the campaign was edgy and we knew it would be harsh and upsetting, the facts of mental illness are even more upsetting.

"I am disappointed. I thought the people we'd be arguing with are the people who believe psychiatric illness doesn't exist" or those who believe children are being overmedicated, he said.

"I thought we'd be fighting ignorance. I didn't think we'd be fighting adult patients or the parents of patients whose feelings have been hurt."

Susan Etlinger of San Francisco is one such parent, but she maintains that hers is "not the P.C. outcry of an offended parent."

"It's a legitimate claim that children with disabilities are vulnerable enough as it is," said Ms. Etlinger, whose 4-year-old son has mild autism. "I think we need to take special care that they're not further stigmatized. This campaign characterizes them as a series of symptoms rather than as the unique people they are."

Bennett L. Leventhal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, said he understood the parents' dismay. "We live in a world where people are still defensive about having a psychiatric illness or having a child with psychiatric illnesses," he said. "But I think it's a very bold campaign. I think the ads speak to the point that these are real diseases and if you don't do something they can consume your child."

Dr. Koplewicz said he had not considered jettisoning the campaign, but there was some discussion about dropping its two most controversial components: the autism and Asperger's ads.

He decided to retain the ads after conferring with colleagues whose attitude, he said, "was that some people would be upset but that we should stick with it and ride out the storm."

"We're going to see how it goes in New York," Dr. Koplewicz said. "If it goes well, we're going to go to four other cities."

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