Elijah Hanson struggled with his mental health for years. The 21-year-old from Tacoma, Washington, had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and was receiving treatment at a local behavioral health clinic. According to years of therapy notes, he was desperate to better understand himself and his emotions.
“It was him and me in this huge battle, constantly looking for therapists, psychiatrists, anyone to help him with his issues,” his mother, Kelli Rasmussen, told CBS News.
Earlier this year, Hanson took an increasingly familiar path at a time when online mental health care providers were thriving: He signed up with an online provider called Cerebral. As demand for such services soars, CBS News has taken a look at the growing segment of the mental health market that operates online – and one of the biggest players in this space is Cerebral.
Hanson told Cerebral he needed help with ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – despite never having been diagnosed before. He was able to get a prescription for the stimulant Adderall without any in-person consultation, although, as his brother, Ethan Hanson, later alleges, he only wanted the drug to abuse it.
“He lied and said he had ADHD,” Ethan Hanson said.
According to his brother, Elijah Hanson lied to Cerebral because he wanted Adderall, a prescription stimulant that is sometimes misused to get high. Ethan Hanson said he and his brother had both abused the drug before.
Soon, his family said, Elijah Hanson lost weight and began isolating himself in his bedroom.
“You can definitely tell he was taking way too much. And he was not in his right mind at all,” his brother said.
His mother believes Elijah Hanson’s misuse of Adderall exacerbated his mental health issues. On June 25, she returned home with an inconceivable sight: Elijah Hanson lying dead on the kitchen floor. He had found a gun kept in the house and recorded himself playing Russian roulette.
Before the pandemic, healthcare providers were not allowed to prescribe drugs like Adderall to patients without first seeing the patient in person. Adderall is a controlled substance and belongs to a class of drugs tightly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration because it has a “high potential for abuse”.
“These are dangerous drugs that are controlled for a reason,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a prescribing expert, told CBS News.
Distribution was restricted under the Ryan Haight Act, a 2008 law named after an 18-year-old who died of an overdose of drugs obtained online. It requires medical professionals to see patients in person before prescribing a controlled substance. But due to the pandemic, the law has been temporarily lifted, meaning these drugs can now be prescribed via virtual appointments online – something Kolodny considers risky.
“Without the requirement for a face-to-face visit, you can see companies taking advantage of the ease with which these drugs can be prescribed,” Kolodny said.
Data shows that the United States saw a 15% increase in Adderall prescriptions for adults aged 22-44 from 2020 to 2021. Online medications may be partly to blame.
Cerebral is one of many online mental health companies that have gained popularity during the pandemic and helped meet a growing demand for virtual care. But some experts worry that online vendors are making it too easy for people looking to abuse drugs like Adderall.
Cerebral records show that the first prescriber Elijah Hanson met on the platform in February refused to give him a stimulant, considering it a “risk to prescribe [a] Controlled substance. So Elijah Hanson created a new account in April and tried again. This time, another Cerebral prescriber gave her Adderall.
“I’m angry that this online platform just thinks handing out these drugs to people…is OK. Because it’s not,” Rasmussen said.
While Cerebral and others urged the government to permanently drop the in-person visit requirement, the company stopped prescribing controlled substances to new patients, telling CBS News in a statement that the decision was a way for the company to anticipate dismissal. of the pandemic waiver that has not yet taken place.
“Patients who were prescribed a controlled substance before May have, as clinically appropriate, been reduced from controlled substances or transferred to providers who can provide in-person care,” a spokesperson told CBS. News. “To date, no regulator has accused the company or any clinician of wrongdoing or violation of any law.”
The company declined to comment on Elijah Hanson’s case. “While we cannot comment on specific customer cases, we can say that Cerebral has robust systems in place at all levels to detect and intervene when we suspect drug-seeking behavior,” a spokesperson said. at CBS News.
In a exclusive interview With CBS News earlier this year, Cerebral CEO Dr. David Mou defended the company’s prescribing practices after Cerebral confirmed it was under investigation by the Department of Justice.
“We have very, very good clinical results when it comes to depression and anxiety, PTSD and ADHD, and even serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder,” Mou said.
But in a letter written last month and obtained per CBS News, Cerebral founder Kyle Robertson – who was removed from his position by Cerebral’s board of directors earlier this year – says some of the company’s top investors are “pushing[ed] for increasing prescriptions for controlled substances” like Adderall. Robertson alleges a board member told him, “the easier it is for people to get stimulants, the better it is for the company and its customers “.
The company told us that Robertson’s claims are “categorically false.”
If you or someone you know is in trouble, help is available 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Simply call 988 or 1-800-273-8255. For more resources, please click here.
If you would like to share your experience of using online mental health services, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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