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    House Panel Explores Ritalin Use


    "Adolescents don?t have to rob a pharmacy ... they have little difficulty obtaining it from a friend or classmate at school," said Terrance Woodworth, deputy director of the DEA. He also said that the abuse potential for Ritalin is in some ways similar to that for cocaine. However, experts say that Ritalin is extremely unlikely to lead to addiction in children.

    Ritalin had its defenders at the hearing. Francisca Jorgensen, a special educator from Arlington, Va., described a child named "Joe" who struggled with attention and behavior problems for three years. Nothing helped until the family tried Ritalin with spectacular results. "Joe is and will be a success," said Jorgensen.

    Mary Robertson told of the impulsive behavior of her son Anthony, which was finally controlled by Ritalin. "It was like watching a scene from ?Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.? The difference was unbelievable," says Robertson, a nurse and past president of the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

    "Clearly, the Congress and the public need more information in order to weigh the benefits and harms of prescribing Ritalin," Castle says.

    Ritalin was also a topic of discussion at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Chicago, where experts said that the huge increase in stimulant and antidepressant prescriptions for children hides the fact that most kids with serious mental disorders are actually being under-treated.

    "Drugs alone are not sufficient treatment," said David Fassler, MD, chair of the APA Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families. "The key is getting the child to a physician with sufficient experience and training to get the child the treatment he or she needs."

    That too many children are being given strong psychoactive drugs without proper evaluation is becoming painfully obvious, according to the experts.

    "The number of children being treated doesn't match the number being diagnosed," said Laurence Greenhill, MD, of the New York Psychiatric Institute. "We have to worry about getting the best [proven] medications to the children who need them."

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