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Prescription drug abuse is something that has been an issue in the United States for decades. There have been many documented cases of individuals who have become addicted to sleeping pills, painkillers, or other medications to which they were prescribed. A huge example of this occurred in the 1970s, when abuse of the drug Dexedrine became an epidemic among women when it was over prescribed as a diet aid. Performance enhancers such as Viagra and Prozac are considered to be welcome additions to people’s diets in this current time when it is believed that all of life’s problems can be solved by taking some sort of pill.
Ritalin, a drug that is intended for use in the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most controversial prescription drugs today. The difference between Ritalin and other drugs on the market is that this drug is meant to treat a disorder that is most commonly diagnosed in younger patients.
ADHD, a medical condition that affects one’s ability to concentrate and to maintain tasks, is considered to be the most common psychiatric disorder among school-aged children (Financial News). Because of the frequency of this condition among people in the younger age-bracket, Ritalin is being prescribed to children and teenagers in frenetically increasing amounts. The availability of this drug to young people has been the cause of concern for many parents, professionals, and government officials alike, who feel that ADHD is often over diagnosed, and that Ritalin is too easily given as treatment to individuals who may not need to be medicated, which has led to its misuse.
Although there are many sides to the Ritalin controversy, there is one fact that cannot be denied: the amount of Ritalin prescribed to people in the United States has increased tremendously in recent years. “Youths High on Ritalin,” an article written by Karen Goldberg Goff, and published in The Washington Times, focused on the growing problem of Ritalin use among the nation’s youngsters. According to the deputy director of diversion control for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Terry Woodworth, the drug has experienced a 500 percent increase in popularity in the past ten years, with nearly eleven million prescriptions being written each year (Goff). Some people have argued that the increase in prescriptions is a positive sign, showing that more people affected by ADHD are being given the proper treatment. However, there are many people who see this increase as a sign that people are being overmedicated and that the drug is being abused.
One of the most significant factors to the over prescription of Ritalin can be attributed to the diagnosis of ADHD itself. ADHD is a subjective disorder that is nearly impossible to concretely define. As explained by Mr. Woodworth, “There is no diagnostic test to say whether a child has ADHD… It really is in the eyes of the beholder to say what is normal and what isn’t normal…if the criteria was more designed, then the likelihood for more accurate diagnosis would result in less diversion” (Goth). Although creating guidelines for diagnosing ADHD would be helpful in researching the disorder, they would be extremely difficult to apply to the actual patients, especially children, who act only intermittently impulsive or who are sometimes only inattentive at school. Because the symptoms and effects of ADHD differ from patient to patient, doctors have much more flexibility in making their diagnosis, and subsequently, in writing their prescriptions.
A further factor in the increasing number of children being prescribed to Ritalin is the pressure put on them by their parents, teachers, and society as a whole. In an article titled “Would Tom Sawyer have been Prescribed Ritalin?” behavior pediatrician Dr. Lawrence H. Diller, M.D., explains that in the early 1990s, he began to see a difference in the patients of whom he was being asked to treat. He explains that he “began to see a new kind of ADD candidate, younger than six, teenagers, and adults. Many of the children seemed far less impaired by their personalities compared to the previous generation of patients. Nevertheless, their parents and teachers were concerned” (Diller). In the article, Dr. Diller speculated that the change in his patients was a result of changes in American society, and elevated expectations for today’s generation of kids. He feels that “Children are expected to learn earlier and more yet we have larger student-teacher ratios in the general education classroom. Parents are also working harder and longer which means less time for their children and more structured day-care and latch key kids.” Many of today’s parents and teachers have been led to believe that children must behave in a certain, conformed way, and if they fail to do so, then there must be some reason for their behavior. These new expectations of children have brought many parents unnecessary concern, which has caused them to seek the help of medical professionals. In turn, the professionals prescribe the kids to Ritalin, and medication at an early age is begun.
Although more young children are currently prescribed to Ritalin than ever before, they are not too likely to misuse the drug. Usually, their use of Ritalin is controlled by a parent or school nurse, and even if the drugs do get in the hands of the kids, they are most likely not intentionally misused. However, once the medicated child grows to the age when drug experimentation begins, misuse has the potential to become a problem. Lauren, who was thirteen when she began snorting Ritalin recreationally, said that she began because she and a lot of her friends were prescribed to the drug. She said that “Parents are under the impression that they need a lot of [Ritalin). I knew in the back of my mind drugs were bad, but then again, if it had been prescribed for me or my friends, what was the big deal?” (Goff). Lauren’s misunderstanding of healthy usage of the drug to which she was prescribed is a vivid example of the dangers of medicating children at such a young age. Once these children reach the age of rebellion, they are often unaware of the dangers associated with Ritalin misuse.
Social worker Sally Eller feels that “Ritalin use is endemic among kids using drugs…it is always there and always easy to get.” Calling it the “middle school cocaine,” she explains that it is often the first drug to which adolescents get introduced. Initially, Eller’s comparison of Ritalin to cocaine may seem exaggerated and even a bit paranoid, but when examined deeper, the parallels between Ritalin abuse and the abuse of other stimulants become clear. According to the DEA, high doses of Ritalin do have the same side affects and abuse potential as other stimulants to the central nervous system, such as cocaine. Effects of high doses of Ritalin include agitation, euphoria, hypertension, and increased heart rate. In order to get the desired effects, abusers of Ritalin snort the drug, which is the most effective way for it to reach their brain. However, since the euphoria gained from the drug is so similar to those induced by cocaine; the withdrawal effects are also similar, causing Ritalin to be highly addictive (Goth). Clearly, Ritalin has the potential to be abused by users, and for this reason the DEA has labeled the drug as a Schedule Il drug, meaning that there is a high abuse level.
Justin, a sixteen-year-old Ritalin abuser who at one point used the drug every day, is an example of the extent of Ritalin abuse in the United States. He explained the feeling he got when using Ritalin, saying, “I liked the high…it is speed. It made me pay attention in school. I didn’t have to sleep. When you are high, you feel really good, but then you feel really bad. You start thinking crazy thoughts, becoming paranoid” (Goth). Although Justin was never diagnosed with ADHD or prescribed to Ritalin, he was able to gain access to the drug via friends who were prescribed, who would give him handfuls at a time. The potential for prescribed individuals to make money off of their medication is a real cause for concern about the over prescription of such a drug. Although pills usually sell for a mere fifty-cents to a dollar, the demand for Ritalin is sometimes so high that the money can add up to legitimate profits. In a study done at the University of Wisconsin about the use of Ritalin on the college campus, 100 students who had prescriptions to the drug were questioned about their usage. Disturbingly, one in five participants admitted to misusing the drug by either increasing dosage, obtaining early refills, or giving pills to friends. To further legitimate the concern, another 1998 study performed by the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics that studied nearly two-hundred children who were prescribed Ritalin found that sixteen percent had been approached during school hours to sell, trade, or give their medication away (Goth). There is a clear problem in the United States with the abuse of and addiction to Ritalin.
Although there is so much evidence as to why Ritalin abuse and over prescription is a current problem, the problem becomes even more complex when the people who really do need prescriptions to the drug are brought into play. For people with severe ADHD, Ritalin has been an extremely beneficial and crucial part of their lives. Ritalin causes a sizeable increase in one’s ability to concentrate, and for some people with the disorder, this means a complete difference in their day-today lives. In an article written at the University of Florida, Paul, a student diagnosed with ADHD explained that people who don’t have this disorder are abusing the right for it to be on the market… It will stir up a controversy so out of control they may take the option [for me to use the drug] away…I’m brain dead without it… Thousands of people rely on this medication” (Denney). In fact, millions of people rely on the medication, and these people would be extremely angered if Ritalin was ever taken off the market. Ritalin has made quite a difference in so many people’s lives, and this is a huge reason why the problem of some people’s abuse is such an emotional and controversial issue. There really is no way for Ritalin use to be curbed completely.
From my research on this topic, I clearly believe that the increased ADHD diagnosis and subsequent Ritalin over prescription in this country is a huge problem and one with which must be dealt. However, it is extremely difficult for me to form a one-sided opinion or find a concrete solution since there are so many variables and subjective reasons for the prescription, usage, and possible abuse of Ritalin. I feel that the DEA and the government must pay closer attention to the abuse of Ritalin and closely monitor the prescriptions that are being made. I also think that although it is difficult for guidelines to be made for the actual diagnosis of ADHD, they should be defined for exactly what severity of the disorder calls for a Ritalin prescription. These guidelines would cause only the people who were in dire need of the drug to gain access to it, which would diminish the potential for these individuals to give their medication away, and also make it more difficult for potential abusers to gain access to the drug through prescriptions of their own. In addition, there are other ways to treat ADHD, such as educational approaches, and psychological and behavioral therapies. Although these treatments may not be as quick or ideal for some patients, they may be able to help the even bigger problem of drug abuse among our nation’s children. Hopefully, this problem of Ritalin abuse in this country will begin get smaller, and not continue to increase as it has been in previous years.
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