- Ritalin, the mild stimulant commonly prescribed to treat
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is becoming increasingly
popular as a recreational drug among teens and pre-teens.
- C H I C A G O -Its street names include "Vitamin
R and "R-Ball, and federal drug enforcers list it among the top controlled
prescription drugs reported stolen in the United States.
- It is Ritalin, the mild stimulant commonly prescribed
for young children to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or
ADHD. Authorities fear Ritalin is becoming increasingly popular as a recreational
drug among teens and pre-teens.
- An Area of Concern
- "It,s an area of concern, said Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman
for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "It has the potential
for abuse, so we would be looking at that and we,ll continue to monitor
- Some psychiatrists point out that there are no definitive
studies on the extent of any abuse and that Ritalin is milder than other
stimulants. Even so, the DEA lists Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate
or MPH, as one the agency,s "drugs of concern.
- "A significant amount of data from school surveys,
emergency room reports, poison control centers, adolescent drug treatment
and law enforcement encounters all indicate a growing problem with the
abuse of MPH among school children, Gretchen Feussner, a DEA pharmacologist,
wrote in a recent report.
- Administrators at Lake Zurich Middle School North had
heard about Ritalin abuse in the community for almost three years, Principal
Philip Zarob said. But they did not know of abuse within the school until
a teacher spotted two students passing something in a restroom last month.
Since then, 15 students have been suspended.
- A Common Case
- The case is not uncommon, according to the DEA. The agency
cited a 1997 Indiana University survey of 44,232 students that included
a question about the non-medical use of Ritalin. Nearly 7 percent of high
school students surveyed reported using Ritalin recreationally at least
once in the previous year, and 2.5 percent reported using it monthly or
- The DEA also counted nearly 2,000 cases of methylphenidate
theft from January 1990 to May 1995 " ranking the drug among the top
10 controlled pharmaceuticals most frequently reported stolen.
- In addition, emergency room admissions studied by the
federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found
that in 1995 and 1996, patients ages 10 to 14 were just as likely to mention
methylphenidate as cocaine in a drug-related emergency room episode.
- Nearly 75 percent said they had been using the drug for
psychic effects or recreation.
- Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., the maker of Ritalin,
said in a statement that millions of ADHD patients have been treated safely
using the drug.
- How Ritalin Is Abused
- Ritalin is a stimulant routinely given to treat attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder. Used recreationally, the drug can give a sense
of euphoria, particularly when it enters the bloodstream rapidly.
- Some users dissolve the drug in water, "cook it
and then inject it. Others grind the pills and inhale the powder. Suburban
and white abusers are more likely to snort Ritalin, says Ritalin abuse
report author Dr. William Bailey, of Indiana University in Bloomington.
- It is most commonly used to offset the depressant effects
of alcohol so users can stay out late and drink more, says Dr. Eric Heiligenstein,
a psychiatrist with the University of Wisconsin Health Services in Madison.
- Besides getting high, kids also use Ritalin as a study
aid. "It seems to be a phenomenon that developed in the East Coast
prep schools, where using Ritalin as a study aid to stay awake was part
of the school culture, Heiligenstein says. "They took their Ritalin
habit with them when they went to college.
- Part of the allure of the drug for college and younger
children is its availability. Prescriptions are written for children as
young as 1 and school nurses routinely dispense the medication to grade-schoolers.
- The effects of the drug last a few hours when taken orally.
But even when taken according to the prescription, there is a risk of developing
a dependence and a tolerance to the drug, Bailey says.
- High doses lead to the same symptoms as other stimulant
abuse, such as loss of appetite, tremors and muscle twitching, fevers,
convulsions and headaches, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, a sensation
of bugs or worms crawling under the skin and an irregular heartbeat that
can lead to death.
- Death due to Ritalin abuse is uncommon. Still, a little
is enough to kill you, says William Massello III, an assistant chief medical
examiner in Roanoke, Va., who recently examined a teenager who died because
the drug jolted his heart out of rhythm.
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