Ritalin as a Prescription Drug
Ritalin is a drug commonly prescribed to children with ADD/ADHD. ADD/ADHD is a condition which develops in childhood and may persist into adulthood. Common symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and forgetfulness. Treatment plans may vary from individual to individual but usually consist of a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.
There are several theories about how Ritalin actually works. According to one theory, it is the affect of Ritalin on the production of dopamine in the frontal lobe which allows ADD/ADHD patients to better focus on daily activities. However, more recent studies show that Ritalin may interact with the neurotransmitter serotonin to increase concentration.
Side Effects of Ritalin
Although Ritalin helps to alleviate emotional and behavioral symptoms of ADD/ADHD, there are significant side effects. Some of the more serious side effects of Ritalin include the following:
-Loss of appetite
-Swings in Blood Sugar
-High Blood Pressure
Additional side effects may include depression, anxiety, irritability and in some very rare instances, psychosis. However, it is important to note that the more serious side effects occur only when massive doses of Ritalin are ingested.
Ritalin and Substance Abuse by Teenagers
Since 1990, Ritalin abuse amongst teenagers and college students has steadily increased.
Ironically, some of the more detrimental side effects of Ritalin are what it makes it so desirable as a recreational drug. It is not uncommon for teenagers to use the substance to cut down on sleep and enhance academic performance or to ingest Ritalin to stay awake for all night party sessions. Teenagers with eating disorders may also use the substance as an appetite suppressant.
Ritalin abuse is most prevalent in adolescents and teenagers. Since the drug is most commonly prescribed to treat ADHD/ADD, a typically childhood condition, it most widely available to this population. Ritalin abusers either have access to their own prescription or procure their supply from other Ritalin users or dealers. It is quite easy to obtain Ritalin through both legal and illegal means.
“Kibbles and Bits”, “Kiddy Cocaine”, “Pineapple” and “Vitamin R” are examples of common street names for Ritalin. Ritalin may also be mixed with other prescription drugs, such as the painkiller Talwin, to produce a more intense effect. As a stimulant, Ritalin has similar effects to cocaine and heroin. It speeds up the heartbeat, induces hyper-alertness and creates a sense of euphoria. If excessive amounts are ingested, the body will then require increasing amounts to produce the desired effects. Thus, Ritalin has the same addictive cycle as other controlled substances, although death from overdose is less likely with Ritalin than with other more powerful amphetamines.
Most commonly, Ritalin is ingested orally in tablet form or dissolved in water. Ritalin abusers may also inject the drug directly into their veins, which can produce potentially fatal blood clots. Ritalin users who inject the drug intravenously also carry the risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis by using dirty needles.
Combating Ritalin Abuse
Educating parents and teachers about ADHD/ADD may go a long way in combating Ritalin abuse amongst adolescents and teenagers. The use of Ritalin as a blanket remedy for hyperactivity and inattention has greatly increased the availability of the drug to the younger population. There are several conditions which mimic the symptoms of ADD such as autism, lead toxicity, hypothyroidism, nutritional deficiencies and certain allergies. For example, autistic children often exhibit the same aversion to certain sights, sounds and textures as ADD sufferers. Lead toxicity can affect short-term memory and concentration in much the same way as AHDH/ADD and iron deficiencies can similarly affect cognitive skills. Children suspected of having ADHD/ADD should receive a thorough examination to rule out other causes. Thirty percent of school age children are on Ritalin, yet only 11% actually have ADHD/ADD.
Substance abuse education programs may also help to decrease illegal Ritalin use amongst preteens and teens. For example, the American Council on Drug Education provides numerous tips on how to address substance abuse in the younger population. ACDE provides lesson plans, literature, videos and access to health professionals for parents and educators. With these resources in hand, parents and teachers can begin educate children about the dangers and penalties associated with illegal drug abuse.
The government has also taken steps to make the trafficking of Ritalin a serious offense. According to the Federal Drug Administration, Ritalin is now classed in the same category as heroin or cocaine. First time offenders are subject to up to twenty years in prison with a hefty fine of one million dollars. If death or serious injury to another results from trafficking the drug, even harsher punishment may ensue.
Ritalin abuse amongst teenagers is a serious problem which needs to be addressed on all levels. Hopefully, with stricter criteria for ADHD/ADD diagnosis, education and severe trafficking penalties, the instance of Ritalin abuse may decrease over time.