A growing number of young people are snorting Ritalin — a much-lauded drug for hyperactive children — to lose weight, study for exams and in some cases, just to get high, according to some drug experts.
Teens and 20-somethings are the key abusers, and some even go to their doctors and fake symptoms in order to get prescriptions for Ritalin that they subsequently misuse themselves, and even sell to their friends, experts said.
"I'd take six, seven, eight pills at a time," said Jacob Stone, a high school student at Sobriety High, a drug treatment school in Minneapolis, who used to abuse Ritalin. "I'd snort them. Along the way, I knew a couple who would melt them down and shoot them up."
There has been a six-fold increase in emergency room visits associated to Ritalin abuse over the past decade, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which tracks drug abuse data for federal health authorities. There were 271 Ritalin-related emergency room visits in 1990 and 1,478 visits in 2001.
"All the kids know about Ritalin abuse," said Dr. Robert Millman, a psychiatry professor at Cornell University-Weill Medical College in New York. "They know about other kids sharing their pills, and they know about kids snorting it."
Stone began misusing Ritalin after being diagnosed with ADHD as a sixth-grader, and later sold the prescription drug to fellow high school students, charging $5 for three blue 10-milligram pills or one orange 30-milligram pill.
"And the people who were most interested in it were the younger kids who weren't trying to do real drugs," Stone said. "They wanted something that seemed like it was okay to do and that still would give them a good buzz."
Parents Clueless About Misuse
For children with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, medications like Ritalin and another stimulant called Adderall, can be miracle drugs. These stimulants help an estimated 4 million children remain focused on learning, and allows them to get ahead in school.
Abusers of the drug say the high it creates is similar to what can be achieved with cocaine, and that parents are clueless about Ritalin's misuse.
"I know people that stay up for days off Adderall or Ritalin, and it does the same thing as coke," said Abby Neff, another Sobriety High student who abused Ritalin.
The makers of Ritalin, the Novartis Corporation — argue that its product effectively helps millions of children cope with ADHD, and that the medication should only be used as prescribed. The Shire Pharmaceuticals Group which manufactures Adderall, also defends its product when used properly as prescribed. Both companies say their products do not lead to the abuse of illicit drugs.
Many parents have no idea about Ritalin's potential for misuse, said Lynda S. Madison, an associate professor in pediatrics and psychiatry at Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Neb.
"I have known parents who said they took the Ritalin prescribed for their child themselves, or gave it to their other children, 'just to see if it helps,' " Madison said. Unfortunately, as useful as the medication is for children who truly have ADHD, it often is seen as completely benign and readily accessible."
A high-school student and former abuser agreed that her mom was in the dark about the drug.
"My mom never had an inkling that I was using Ritalin to get high," Wyeth Gibson, a Sobriety High student said.
Fast Rush For Kids in the Know
Statistics show that Gibson is not alone.