Beleaguered startup Cerebral launched in 2020 with a mission to expand access to mental health services. The $4.8 billion company has served over 200,000 patients, and its ads pepper For You Pages and Instagram feeds far and wide. It’s backed by SoftBank and represented by Simone Biles.
But in 2022, the company has faced scrutiny for overprescribing controlled substances like Adderall, a Schedule II mixture of amphetamines. While most studies show that the drug is safe when taken in small doses for ADHD, it can have addictive properties when taken at large doses.
On Wednesday, Cerebral said it would stop prescribing controlled substances. In a public memo, CEO Kyle Robertson writes that the company’s doctors will stop prescribing Ritalin and Adderall for the next few months. Existing patients, Robertson says, will “continue receiving their clinically appropriate, prescribed medications.” The decision comes after mounting controversy around Cerebral’s practices.
Pharmacies and staff are concerned — The Wall Street Journal reported in April that pharmacy chains including CVS and Walmart have expressed concerns about the number of stimulant prescriptions that Cerebral writes.
Last week, a former Cerebral vice president named Matthew Truebe filed a lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully terminated after criticizing the company for overprescribing stimulants. The trouble isn’t just at the top. In March, Bloomberg wrote that Cerebral practitioners were seeing as many as 30 patients per day, double what the American Association of Nurse Practitioners calls a typical caseload. The too-brief virtual visits and the startup’s focus on growth took a toll, and various employees expressed that they felt pressured to prescribe controlled substances.
And the DEA is concerned — Two former Cerebral employees told Insider that they’d been interviewed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, suggesting that the DEA has been investigating Cerebral.
Access to mental health resources sounds like a decidedly good thing, but the company’s pursuit of explosive growth makes the venture appear less like health care and more like a TikTok telehealth pill mill. Mental health became a social media minefield that tempts you to try on diagnoses like personalities.
In February, Media Matters labeled the ADHD ads from Cebrbral and Done, another telehealth mental health company, as predatory. The media watchdog went on to show that TikTok users weren’t naïve. It cited a popular (and very funny) video with the text “pharmaceutical companies after running TikTok ads to convince children they need to start ADHD meds” along with the song “Major Bag Alert” playing in the background.
Perhaps the major bag won’t last for long, now that information about Cerebral’s undesirable practices is hitting the mainstream.