Is Ritalin Over Prescribed?
Imagine for a moment that you are nine years old again. You are sitting in your third grade classroom trying as hard as you can to listen to your teacher, but you just can't. The heater is making this clicking sound that won't stop and the class hamster is running all over his cage. Further more, there is a light in the corner that keeps blinking like it is going to go out at anytime. It seems like your teacher has been talking forever and you just can't stand still. All of this because you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Then you are prescribed a common drug called Ritalin.
Ritalin is a drug that many households deal with on a daily basis. It is also a drug that is very powerful, and one that the United states Drug enforcement Administration has classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, in the same category as cocaine, methadone and methamphetamine (Snyderman 1). Both cocaine and Ritalin use the same receptor site in the brain, giving the same "high" and in medical research are used interchangeably. The only difference between cocaine and Ritalin is that cocaine leaves the receptor site quicker than Ritalin, possibly making it more addictive (Snyderman 1). Ritalin is not a drug that is typically sold on the street like cocaine or marijuana. It is a drug that doctors prescribe to help children and adults with hyperactivity and attention problems. But are these trained professionals over prescribing it?
The road a child has to take to get on Ritalin is very long and often very hard. A child has to be observed by a teacher or parent, get a medical exam, and be observed by many specialists. What are all these doctors looking for? Well, first the medical doctor rules out attention problems due to a hearing loss or mental retardation. Then the specialists make sure the attention problem isn't due to severe anxiety or depression. The speech pathologist also looks for more subtle problems. Once all of these professionals agree, the child may go on Ritalin. That is the process children are supposed to go through. The problem comes in when the process isn't followed and doctors prescribe Ritalin to every child that walks through the door (Silver 3).
The rate of Ritalin use in the United States is at lease five times higher than the rest of the world, with nearly three million children using it (Cooter 305). The reason for this is quite simple. Almost half the pediatricians surveyed for a recent report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine said they have sent children thought to have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders home in an hour with a prescription of Ritalin (Runnhein 310). With such a rapid turn around, many doctors never talk to teachers, review the child's educational level, nor do any kind of psychological work-up - all essential diagnostic elements. One teacher I spoke to about Ritalin said she could tell you the doctor a child goes to if he or she showed up to school unexpectedly with Ritalin. She said there are a couple doctors in town that hand it out like candy the same day the parent goes in (Morrison). There are also cases when the doctor never even sees the child, just gets a description of them from their parents.
Due to lack of research, parents are often unaware of some of the more unknown disadvantages of putting their child on Ritalin. For instance, several major insurance companies will either decline or write an exception to the policy for children who are prescribed Ritalin and other drug therapies. If the child stays on Ritalin until his or her adult years they may also find out that the Military Personal Procurement Manual lists the prescription of Ritalin as a permanent disqualifier for joining the military. Because Ritalin is heard of so frequently parents often think it has to be safe and don't even bother looking into a drug that their child will potentially take everyday. (Fachin 239)
Although critics dismiss the drug as just a behavioral "quick fix" for children forced to live in an impatient culture that feeds on dead lines, due dates, soundbites and megabytes, many parents beg to differ.
Jane Leavey is one of those parents. She says that Ritalin helps her son Nick, who is eleven, be the best that he can be. Ritalin didn't make him smarter; it just made him able to show his knowledge. Before he was just so frustrated he couldn't find his shoes, much less do his homework. As soon as Nick got on Ritalin he began to believe in himself again. (Silver 2)
When Wisconsin did a state survey of teachers, positive things about Ritalin were also found. Eighty-eight percent of teacher said they did play a role in determining if students should go Ritalin and Sixty-six percent said they are actively involved in monitoring it's effectiveness (Runnhein 308). Teachers also agreed that the students who have ADHD and are receiving medication did behave more appropriately in social situations. This may not be just because of the medication though. Ninety-eight percent of teachers reported implementing some type of behavior management program in their classroom (Runnhein 313). Most importantly, the teachers believed the number of students with Emotional Behavioral Disorders who are treated with medication is consonant with actual needs.
But if the only people receiving Ritalin are those that are in need, then how come so many are willing to give away or even sell their prescription medication? Yes, that is right college students are making up to five dollars a pill for their Ritalin.
Although the over prescription of Ritalin is potentially dangerous for children, it is extremely more dangerous when falling into the hands of college students. Many may ask themselves how this could be considering children are obviously smaller and more fragile than college students, but the answer is quit simple. These college student are crushing and sniffing Ritalin for the burst of energy it provides them. Thought the drug helps ADHD suffers focus, it acts as a stimulus in those who are not diagnosed with the disorder. According to Dr. Nancy Snyderman, when Ritalin is swallowed or snorted in larger than therapeutic doses, it gives them a sudden burst of energy - even euphoria - that can last for several hours (1).
A classic example of this trend is David Green. When David Green gets ready to write a term paper, he boots up his computer, pulls his chair close to his desk and draws a deep breath. So far this sounds like the typical college student ready far a long night ahead of him, but what happens next may not sound so typical. He crushes a tablet of Ritalin beneath his textbook, leans over his desk blotter and inhales the small amount of white powder. Green, a Harvard sophomore who doesn't have a prescription for Ritalin, says that he hasn't written a paper without Ritalin since his junior year in high school. He even wrote his Harvard essay on it. He is aware of the risks involved, such as tremors, hypertension, psychosis, and even death, but he says that the result of being so energized is worth it. While studying, Green says that he snorts up to sixty milligrams of Ritalin at a time. The average morning dosage for a person with ADHD is only ten milligrams. Green maintains a steady supply with the help of friends who have legitimate prescriptions for the drug. (Tennant 3)
Students aren't the only people who will say that the drug is in fact being abused. Dr. Randolph Catlin, director of Harvard's university health services, said he was sure some students were abusing the drug, but they didn't usually come to health services (Tennant 3). Even Ritalin's manufacturer, Novartis, acknowledges that the drug is easily abused. University of Michigan's drug counselor, Vivian Yamata, says that to her knowledge there haven't been any cases of Ritalin abuse there, but she also said that was just beaches it hadn't come up and she had heard of people abusing it. (Tennant 4)
Parents and doctors have to start to realize that there is a problem with the over prescription of Ritalin. In order to stop the abuse of a serious drug people have to start finding alternatives to dealing with ADHD. For instance, a child may be having learning or behavioral problems because of a food allergy that has gone undetected (Graham 2). Should a child really be put on daily medication when all they may have to do is stop eating a certain food? A teacher could also try to change her teaching style for a particular child and see if any changes occur. There are an unlimited amount of reasons that a child may be having difficulties and society has to learn how to deal with children that are having trouble. Shoving pills down their throat to keep them under control may not be the best solution. The child may just be acting out to get a little attention.
We may never know if Ritalin is over prescribed because everyone has a different idea of who should go on it and who shouldn't. I just hope that children who have other problems, such as depression, aren't being treated with the wrong medication.
Cooter, Robert B. " Ritalin and Reading: A Reaction to Mick." Intervention In School
and Clinic 26 (1991): 305-205.
Fachin, Katharina. " Teaching Tommy." Phi Delta Kappan Feb. 1996: 437-441.
Graham, Janis. (1999 March). Is It ADHD? [Online]. Available:
Runnhein, Veronica A., and William R. Frankenberger. " Medicating Students with
Emothional and Behavioral Disorders and ADHD: A State Survey." Behavioral
Disorders 21 (1996): 306-312.
Morrison, M. Personal interview with Kelly Ims and Gregg Hansen.7 April 1999.
Silver,S.M. (1999 March). Rushing to Ritalin? [online]. Available:
Snyderman, Nancy. (1999 March). "Ritalin: The New Teen High" [online]. Available:
Tennant, Christopher. (March 1999). The Ritalin Racket [online]. Available: