A survey conducted of high school students in Winston-Salem, N.C., found that 4 percent of boys and 1 percent of girls had used no-prescription Ritalin during the previous 30 days, said Robert H. DuRant, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. More than 2,000 students were involved in his survey.
The results of Ritalin abuse can be serious.
Last September, 10 students at Antelope Valley High School near Los Angeles were hospitalized for overdosing on Ritalin during school hours. Police arrested a 14-year-old female student who was accused of supplying them.
"I think in some kids, they use Ritalin when they are younger or they chop it up, they snort it," Millman said. "But cocaine would be the grownup's drug. It's more expensive, it's more difficult to get. And in a way the highs are similar. The idea of a drug is you want to get a fast rush. Change the way you feel fairly rapidly."
Watch Prescription Patients
Millman says few doctors are aware of the serious scope of Ritalin abuse on the high school and college level. Children who receive prescriptions should be monitored, however.
"Many of the kids who are diagnosed as ADD are subject to drug abuse patterns," Millman said. "And they have to be watched carefully."
Bernadette Melnyk, an associate dean at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, agreed.
"Ritalin abuse is not only affecting college students, but also children as young as in grade school," Melnyk said. "I predict this problem is going to continue to grow as the incidence of mental health problems continues to climb. "
Worrisome side effects are increased heart rate, hypertension and psychosis, she said. Ritalin can also have ill effects when mixed with decongestants, cocaine and amphetamines, and it may also inhibit liver metabolism.
A College Exam Endurance Booster
One student at Boston University recalled how classmates would use the drug before a night on the town.
"A lot of people snorted it — to sort of keep them awake," the student, who didn't want her name used said. "It was sort of for endurance — for drinking, going out."
Another student at the same school who asked to be interviewed in shadow, was one of several students who spoke of deceiving a doctor in order to obtain a Ritalin prescription.
"Just read a little bit about the symptoms of ADD, and walked in, and pretended I had ADD — just acted like a scatter-brain," he said. "Look around, wouldn't pay attention, stuff like that. And, you know, the doctor bought it."
Other students said they bought Ritalin online by lying about their symptoms.
An Ivy Leage student spoke of a former classmate who would sell the pills he was prescribed.
He would just tell me about, "Oh, I'm going to go pick up my prescription, and then that'll be nice, easy, like, you know, however much money it is," said Anna, a senior at Harvard. "And so then he could make like $600 if he sold each of them for $10."
Experts say that in many cases, Ritalin abuse is a habit that arrives at college after being developed in high school.
Now a recovered addict, Stone found his Ritalin problem led to even more serious drug abuse.
"Keep it locked up, keep it safe, keep it out of the way," Stone said. "Because if your kids aren't using it and abusing it, some of their friends might be."