The DOJ is scrutinizing mental health startup Cerebral

Cerebral prescribed stimulants to patients online for ADHD, but the government is now investigating its practices.

Many Americans have turned to virtual health care services, but one is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Cerebral is a $4.8B online mental health platform. Its membership tiers include virtual therapy only, or therapy combined with prescription medication.

Convenient, but now the DOJ is investigating if some prescriptions violated the Controlled Substances Act, per Business Insider.

What’s the issue?

Amid the pandemic, the federal government began allowing online prescriptions for certain Schedule II drugs. That opened the door for Cerebral to prescribe stimulants like Adderall for patients diagnosed with ADHD.

Cerebral hasn’t been formally accused of any wrongdoing yet, but:

  • In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that some providers felt pressured to prescribe stimulants, and that the 30-minute virtual visits were too short to diagnose someone with ADHD.
  • In April, a former Cerebral exec sued the startup, alleging that it prescribed stimulants as a way to retain patients and that he was fired when he tried to flag concerns.

The company has denied these allegations, is cooperating with the federal investigation, and has paused prescriptions for new ADHD patients.

Why it matters

Many Americans run into roadblocks when seeking care.

A 2021 survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that, in addition to cost barriers, 48% of respondents weren’t sure if they were eligible for care, while 39% didn’t know how to access services.

Even among the insured, systems can be difficult to navigate — many providers aren’t in-network, and others have long wait times.

Startups can play an important role in streamlining access — but only if they’re safe.

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