Ritalin, a mild stimulant, was designed to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- so why are people without the disorder begging, borrowing and stealing to get it?
A recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) report showed an alarming trend in recreational Ritalin use. According to Department of Justice Deputy Director Terrance Woodward, Ritalin prescriptions have increased fivefold in the last decade, and data from school surveys, poison control centers and emergency rooms indicate that the drug's abuse has increased markedly since 1990. Some of the U.S.' 350 million daily doses of prescribed Ritalin are shared in schools -- surveys indicate that 3% to 8% of high school seniors have used Ritalin without a prescription.
"Ritalin can be very helpful, but kids face pressure to share it," says Eileen Beal, author of Ritalin: Its Use and Abuse (Rosen, 1998). Her research shows that college kids and teenagers are popping pills or snorting the crushed-up powder at dance clubs and late-night study sessions because it speeds up the heart rate and keeps one awake, but it may cause jitters or paranoia. "But we don't see a lot of deaths -- much less than with cocaine use," says Virginia medical examiner William Massello, Ph.D.