The mental health startup Cerebral said it would stop prescribing controlled substances to treat ADHD for new patients on Wednesday, a week after an ex-executive filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired in retaliation for speaking up about unethical business practices, including the company’s practice of overprescribing stimulants in order to retain patients.
“Cerebral clinicians will pause the practice of prescribing controlled substances as a treatment for ADHD such as Adderall and Ritalin for new patients, effective Monday, May 9,” Cerebral cofounder and CEO Kyle Robertson wrote in a memo to staff. “Over the course of the next several months, existing patients will continue receiving their clinically appropriate, prescribed medications and the company will be adding additional tools for clinicians to further safeguard this practice.”
The San Francisco-based startup was valued at $4.8 billion after a $300 million funding round led by SoftBank last December. Cerebral offers monthly subscriptions for medication and therapy for mental health conditions, including ADHD, anxiety and depression.
The company did not address the lawsuit in the memo or a press release issued on Wednesday. Robertson said the “pause” on part of the company’s ADHD services came in response to a review of its clinical quality and safety processes. “Based on recent feedback from stakeholders, it is clear that this has become a distraction from our focus to democratize access to mental health care services, provide treatment for more patients and add service lines for new conditions,” Robertson said in a statement.
In the lawsuit, ex-executive Matthew Truebe, former vice president of product and engineering, alleged Robertson and Chief Medical Officer David Mou encouraged Cerebral employees to prescribe stimulants to 100% of ADHD patients, according to the complaint. In the Wednesday memo to employees, Robertson wrote that “Cerebral is not incentivized or focused on treating a specific condition. Cerebral does not provide its clinicians with a target for prescriptions.” A Cerebral spokesperson had previously said the “allegations in the complaint are not true, and the Company denies them in all respects.”
Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal reported that Truepill, an online pharmacy that fulfills orders for Cerebral, would temporarily halt prescriptions for controlled stimulants written by Cerebral providers. “It is regrettable that a helpful class of medication that is considered a first-line treatment option has become so stigmatized,” Mou said in a statement. “We hope this will change as a population of people with clinical needs are no longer able to access care with us.”
On Wednesday, Cerebral also announced that Mou would be promoted to the role of president and that the company had hired Jacqueline Kniska as head of compliance. Kniska was previously the chief ethics and compliance officer at Virginia Commonwealth University. Chief financial officer Margaret Miller will leave the company at the end of this month.
In January, Instagram pulled Cerebral advertisements around ADHD and eating disorders that violated its policies around eating disorders and body image following inquiries from Forbes. More than 30 ads showed video imagery of a young woman engaging in eating disorder behaviors. Instagram’s parent company Meta specifically prohibits ads that “generate negative self-perception in order to promote health-related products.”
At the time, Cerebral did not respond when asked for comment. “We recognize that we have made mistakes when it comes to our Tiktok, Facebook, and Instagram advertising in the past,” Robertson wrote in the memo to employees on Wednesday. “We listened to the feedback and took action immediately when notified of the concerns.” He said the company completed any internal review of its marketing and advertising and formed a committee to review paid social ads that includes members of Cerebral’s clinical team.
The memo also said Cerebral would prioritize recruiting clinicians and was working to improve its “employee-centric culture.” Forbes had previously reported on issues with how Cerebral treats its employees, including changing the contract status of more than 200 of its therapists from salaried to hourly last summer, while making benefits contingent on hitting certain quotas, a move Robertson called “a very difficult business decision” at the time.