Ritalin -- Prescriptions Don't Seem to Matter for Some
WebMD News Archive
May 9, 2000 -- High school and college students have taken on a dangerous
habit. They're partying with Ritalin prescribed to their peers. And reports are
that parents are also popping the drug -- sometimes using their own kids'
supplies -- hoping it's the perfect weight-loss, high-energy boost. Experts add
that this phenomenon doesn't only occur with Ritalin -- other prescription
drugs are being abused as well. Do they realize the risks?
Ritalin is most frequently prescribed for treatment of attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is thought to affect as many as 5% of
school-aged kids in the U.S. The hallmarks of ADHD are lack of concentration,
restlessness, and frequent frustration. The drug has always been controversial.
However, recreational use and abuse of Ritalin is a growing trend that the Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other watchdog groups have noticed.
Recently, 15 middle-school students in the Chicago suburbs were disciplined
for selling or abusing the drug. The DEA lists Ritalin as one of its "drugs
of concern." As with other controlled, prescription substances, Ritalin has
"high potential for abuse ... that may lead to severe psychological or
physical dependence," Rogene Waite, a DEA spokesperson, tells WebMD.
A report from the DEA identifies Ritalin as one of the top 10 controlled
drugs most frequently reported stolen. It's sold on the street as "Vitamin
R" and "R-Ball." In many cities, Ritalin abuse has moved from the
club scene and now is available to younger adolescents in other social
situations, many of which are billed as "no alcohol" events, Paul
Ulrich, a Chicago-based DEA spokesman, tells WebMD.
One national school survey conducted by the Institute of Social Research at
the University of Michigan shows that in 1997, almost 3% of high school seniors
were using Ritalin without a doctor's order, up from 1% the previous year.
Another survey shows 7% of all Indiana high school students used Ritalin for
non-medical reasons, and 2.5% reported using it on at least a monthly
Also, since 1990, there has been a sixfold increase in the number of
estimated drug abuse emergency room visits associated with the use of Ritalin,
according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Like similar drugs, high doses of Ritalin cause rapid heart rate, high blood
pressure, nervousness, and insomnia. "In teenagers and adults, it acts more
like speed," Jeffrey Bernstein, MD, an emergency room physician at Jackson
Memorial Hospital/University of Miami, tells WebMD. "There are also the
complications you get from high blood pressure and rapid heart rate, like heart
attacks, strokes. There's something called 'amphetamine psychosis' ... people
who take it continuously for a long time have hallucinations," he says.
Typical-dosage Ritalin is slow acting, but when many pills are crushed and
snorted or injected, the high comes quicker, says Bernstein. Danger comes in
two ways -- the drug is psychologically addicting, and injecting the
crushed-pill form is "fraught with complications," says Bernstein.