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Authorities worry Ritalin catching on as recreational drug

CHICAGO (AP) -- Already controversial as a prescription drug, the mild stimulant Ritalin may be gaining popularity as a recreational
drug for teens and pre-teens.

Officials at a middle school in Chicago's suburbs announced this week that they had disciplined 15 students accused of selling or
abusing the drug. Federal drug enforcers list it among the top controlled prescription drugs reported stolen in the United States.

Its street names include "Vitamin R" and "R-Ball."

Some psychiatrists point out that no definitive studies exist on the extent of Ritalin abuse and that it is milder than other stimulants. Even so, the Drug Enforcement Administration lists Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate or MPH, as one of the agency's "drugs of concern."

"It has the potential for abuse, so we would be looking at that and we'll continue to monitor it," said DEA spokeswoman Rogene Waite.

Ritalin is commonly prescribed to young children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some experts contend that is often
unnecessarily given to rambunctious children and that its long-term effects are unclear.

According to the DEA, a 1997 Indiana University survey of 44,232 young people showed that nearly 7 percent of high school students reported using Ritalin recreationally at least once in the previous year, and 2.5 percent reported using it monthly or more often.

Emergency room admissions studied by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 1995 and
1996, patients ages 10 to 14 were just as likely to mention methylphenidate as cocaine in a drug-related emergency room episode. Nearly 75 percent said they had been using the drug for psychic effects or recreation.

Brooke Molina, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, warned against giving
too much weight to such anecdotal reports. "There is no data to tell us that there is rampant abuse going on," Molina said.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., the maker of Ritalin, said in a statement that millions of ADHD patients have been treated safely using the drug.

Recreational users probably take more than the recommended doses of the drug to increase its stimulant effect, said Jerry
Frankenheim, a pharmacologist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

He said high doses of Ritalin may cause convulsions, increased blood pressure, weight loss, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia and psychosis. The DEA also points out that abusers can become psychologically dependent on the drug.
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