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Recreational Use of Ritalin Feared

CHICAGO (AP) — Its street names include ``Vitamin R'' and ``R-Ball,'' and federal drug enforcers list it among the top controlled prescription drugs reported stolen in the United States.

It is Ritalin, the mild stimulant commonly prescribed for young children to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Authorities fear Ritalin is becoming increasingly popular as a recreational drug among teens and pre-teens.

``It's an area of concern,'' said Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. ``It has the potential for abuse, so we would be looking at that and we'll continue to monitor it.''

Some psychiatrists point out that there are no definitive studies on the extent of any abuse and that Ritalin is milder than other stimulants. Even so, the DEA lists Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate or MPH, as one the agency's ``drugs of concern.''

``A significant amount of data from school surveys, emergency room reports, poison control centers, adolescent drug treatment and law enforcement encounters all indicate a growing problem with the abuse of MPH among school children,'' Gretchen Feussner, a DEA pharmacologist, wrote in a recent report.

Administrators at Lake Zurich Middle School North had heard about Ritalin abuse in the community for almost three years, Principal Philip Zarob said. But they did not know of abuse within the school until a teacher spotted two students passing something in a restroom last month.

Since then, 15 students have been suspended.

The case is not uncommon, according to the DEA. The agency cited a 1997 Indiana University survey of 44,232 students that included a question about the non-medical use of Ritalin. Nearly 7 percent of high school students surveyed reported using Ritalin recreationally at least once in the previous year, and 2.5 percent reported using it monthly or more often.

The DEA also counted nearly 2,000 cases of methylphenidate theft from January 1990 to May 1995 — ranking the drug among the top 10 controlled pharmaceuticals most frequently reported stolen.

In addition, 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.

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


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