On Tuesday, March 4, our Issues in Child Advocacy class took a site visit to the State House of Maryland in Annapolis. In the weeks prior to this trip, I spent my time researching a drug called Methylphenidate, known by most people as Ritalin. I, personally, have a special interest in this drug because of the children that I have worked with, the stories my mother (an eighth grade History teacher) has shared, and the abuse of the drug that I have witnessed. To prepare for our meetings with certain House Delegates, I learned some factual information about the drug, but more importantly I read about other peopleís personal experiences with the drug and combined them with my own. The bottom line is this: There is a new prescribed drug on the street today that may be getting out of hand. It can be a high habit forming drug that produces side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, loss of appetite, weight loss, hallucinations, and more. It is also a drug whose clientele has doubled in the past five years. It sounds like a drug that parents fear and police try to keep off the streets, right? Wrong, it is a drug that is being heavily prescribed by pediatricians across the nation that are perhaps being pressured by parents and the school system, or maybe they are doing it for their own financial gain.
Methyphenidate, and other similar drugs, are designed for the right reason. They are designed for children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the United States, there are between 1.5 and 2.5 million children under the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with ADHD. These children often spend their class time day dreaming or being disruptive. While their teachers are giving out orders or lessons, many of these children are unintentionally tuning out their authorities and talking to themselves, their classmates, or thinking about a multitude of things unrelated to their school work. They are very antsy and difficult to control and predict, which is harmful to their learning environment and to the learning environment of the entire class. It is for these children that Methylpenidate is designed to help calm down and help keep concentration levels up. Sounds great, right? Sure, when it is used properly. The problem arises, however, when the distribution of the medication is abused. Many opposing school officials, parents, and physicians have stated their mistrust of the drug and have noted that ěRitalin has become far more widely prescribed than is probably wise or necessaryî (www.lifequal.com/ritln.html) said a representative of the CBS Evening News in a Special Report about Ritalin. Some children who are not diagnosed as ADHD are given the drug in order to take the pressure off the teachers and/or parents. Frustrated teachers and ěon-the-goî parents are often times too quick to judge their childrenís action and request help. They assume that a childís hyperactivity and excitement are enough to justify putting the children on medication. That is not why Methyphenidate was created. Additional problems arise when older siblings are stealing the drug and distributing them among friends. These irresponsible adolescents are using the drug with alcohol, reversing the effects, and creating a high for themselves. It is for these reasons that our group pleaded with three delegates in an attempt to persuade them of the need for House Bill 971. It is our belief that the bill is necessary and important in order to prevent such results from happening. It calls for a 17 member task force made up of representatives who have knowledge and experience in the effects and abuses of Methylpenidate. The task force will study those who use it and hopefully be able to figure out a way to prevent the over prescription and abuse of a drug that was originally designed to be helpful.
For the children who are ADHD, the drug is necessary to help them in school. On the other hand, in dealing with children that are not ADHD, rather than guiding them and helping them to overcome typical childhood delinquencies, many parents are using Methylphenidate to address other behavioral problems. And for all the older members of our society that are using the drugs to get a high, they are at an even greater risk when using the already dangerous pill.
I am a college freshman. Just like 90% of the other freshmen across the country, I party and drink alcohol to relax and have fun. Unfortunately, I have close friends who take it to another level of ěfun.î Many of them are distributing Ritalin and mixing it with alcohol. Due to the combination of their age and alcohol, the effects of Methylphenidate reverse and create a long lasting high, as opposed to being a downer. Greg Nigh, a drug toxicist, recently observed what I have become all too familiar with. In a visit to Baltimore, MD, he was ěquite amazed to discover that the new drug of choice for the perpetually cramming is Ritalin. A few of the people I talked to said that it was extremely popular to help concentrate while studying. Also, they said that it apparently isnít a problem to go to a doctor and say that you have trouble concentrating and you can get a prescription.î (www.aidsauthority.org/rethink/immune/0039.html) I have observed my friends under these circumstances. The drug keeps them up all night, sometimes until eight or nine oíclock in the morning. This evidence proves one of the many side-effects of the drug - insomnia. Luckily, I have seen no major side effects, and no one I know has been hurt. But the drug is irregulating their heartbeat and lifestyle, something that can put their lives in danger in the future. The fact is, out of all the people I know who use the drug at parties, not one of them suffers from ADD or ADHD. It frightens me to see how they act. In my opinion, it is as dangerous as the next drug for one reason: it controls their actions. ěThere is a burgeoning black market for this powerful stimulant (an upper) being sold as ëstreet dopeíî said the CBS Representative. The problem is that ěonce approved by the FDA, drugs such as Ritalin may be freely prescribed by any licensed, practicing physician to anyone in any quantity deemed suitable...and there need be no particular justification for this on a case-by-case basis.î Simply put, the drug is overprescibed. Maybe physicians do it for the financial benefits, maybe they are pressured by impatient mothers. Iím not saying these people are bad parents to their children. But I strongly feel that more information needs to be learned and published before Ritalin is a drug that can be given out so freely with so few questions asked.
I personally donít know the answer to this problem. Maybe one solution would be to leave the medication with a school nurse, who can possibly monitor and record the use of the pill. On the other hand, having to leave class and go to the nurse could also be disruptive and inconvenient. I donít know what the best solution is, but we as a state and nation can do a lot better than our current situation. That is why my classmates traveled to Annapolis on the fourth of March. We support a bill that is necessary to study those who use the drugs and those around them in order to see how our state can better monitor the use and abuse of this drug.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.