- Now that three to four million U.S. schoolchildren are
using the controversial stimulant Ritalin, its illicit use is providing
a powerful kick to college students, too. Dr. Eric Heiligenstein puts it
this way: "The study rooms are as good as some of the local pharmacies"
at the University of Wisconsin.
- According to an informal investigation, Dr. Heiligenstein
found that one in five college students on Ritalin are upping their doses
or otherwise misusing their prescriptions. Some share pills with their
- Some even crush and snort Ritalin as a substitute for
cocaine. Indeed, according to a 1995 Drug Enforcement Administration report,
"methylphenidate [the key ingredient in Ritalin] is a central nervous
system stimulant and shares many of the pharmacological effects of amphetamine,
methamphetamine, and cocaine."
- Production of Ritalin increased by nearly 700% between
1990 and 1997, and usage increases every year. The justification for the
boom in Ritalin is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), first
defined by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.
- The pediatric guidelines for diagnosing ADHD are all
subjective; e.g., often has difficulty awaiting turn, occasionally may
do things compulsively, easily distracted from tasks, fails to give close
attention to details, makes careless mistakes. With such non- scientific
behavioral criteria, it's no wonder we hear that extraordinary numbers
of children are accused of having ADHD.
- Not even the NCAA, the governing body for collegiate
sports, bars its athletes from using Ritalin anymore. The NCAA now allows
its use, even though Ritalin is prohibited by the U.S. and International
- One reason for the explosion of Ritalin usage and the
inability of the NCAA and other organizations to ban its use can be found
in the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed
during the Bush Administration. IDEA mandates that "eligible children
receive access to special education and/or related services."
- The old excuse of "my dog ate my homework"
has been replaced by "I got an ADHD diagnosis." Since this labeling
brings more money into the schools, it's not surprising that schools often
pressure parents to get an ADHD diagnosis and put their child on Ritalin.
- It's also in the school's interest to deal with behavioral
and discipline problems, especially of boys, with a drug. It's so easy
to use Ritalin to make kids compliant: to get them to sit down, shut up,
and do what they're told.
- Advantages of an ADHD classification also inure to college
students. Requests for extra time to complete the SATs, MCATs and LSATs,
based on an ADHD claim, substantially increased during the 1990s.
- At an Ivy League school, a student can merely present
a doctor's letter and some pills to obtain extra time for routine assignments.
Whittier Law School was sued by an ADHD student for providing only 20 extra
minutes instead of a full extra hour for an exam that was only scheduled
to be an hour long.
- Many high school shootings have been linked to prescribed
mind-altering drugs. Oregon high school killer Kip Kinkel had been given
Ritalin and Prozac, Columbine killer Eric Harris had taken another psychotropic
drug, Georgia high school student T.J. Solomon had been on Ritalin prior
to his alleged shooting spree, and Oklahoma middle school student Seth
Trickey was on two drugs described to have psychotic effects when he allegedly
shot at four students.
- According to a study reported in the Journal of the American
Medical Association, about one percent of children aged 2 to 4 are using
Ritalin or Ritalin-like drugs, and that percentage is increasing rapidly.
Ritalin has not been approved by the FDA for use by children under age
- Many believe that a diagnosis of ADHD is nearly impossible
to make in preschoolers because behaviors that are considered signs of
the disorder in older children are normal behaviors for toddlers.
- Judy Garland's dependence on Ritalin was poignantly described
in her daughter Lorna Luft's book, "Me and My Shadows."
- John Silber, Chancellor of Boston University, says that
the "principal attraction of Ritalin is that it is a comparatively
cheap way to get symptomatic relief. ... It is in fact a classic example
of a cheap fix: low-cost, simple and purely superficial."
- Matthew Smith began taking Ritalin at age six. This March,
at age 14, he was still on Ritalin when he suddenly collapsed while skateboarding
and died that same evening.
- Oakland County (MI) Medical Examiner Ljubisa Dragovic
determined the cause of death to be Ritalin. Matthew's "long-term
exposure to stimulants" was the only explanation he could find.
- Pressure rained down on Dr. Dragovic to change his conclusion,
but he held firm, saying: "I'm not telling people what to do with
their children or patients. These are our findings. Take them or leave
- A parent should agree to place a child on Ritalin only
after an examination by the child's own physician (not the school's) and
the parent is satisfied that there isn't some medical or behavioral problem
that might better be treated in another way. Parents should be alert to
the conflict of interest in allowing school employees to dictate treatment
for their children.
- Phyllis Schlafly Column 6-21-00
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