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Education Reporter

Dealing and Stealing Ritalin
Two recent studies plus an avalanche of anecdotal evidence show that Ritalin is increasingly becoming an abused drug. The Boston Globe (10-29-00) reported on a Massachusetts study revealing that nearly 13% of 6,000 high school students admitted they had used Ritalin without a prescription at some point in their lives. Four percent of middle schoolers admitted doing the same thing. A Wisconsin study cited in USA Today (11-27-00), to be published early this year, found even greater abuse of stimulant drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Among 651 public school students in Wisconsin and Minnesota, 34% of those who take Ritalin or other ADHD medications say they have been approached about selling or trading their drugs.

The Wisconsin study showed that 26% of students received their pills from school secretaries, while 13% had their medications dispensed by school nurses. Forty-one percent said they were responsible for taking their pills themselves, and 53% of students who weren't taking ADHD drugs reported that some of those who did either sold or gave away all their medication.

A flurry of press reports last fall indicate that Ritalin is "as easy [to get] as candy." Commonly referred to as "skittles" (because they are colored), "smarties," or "rids," the pills are popped, crushed and inhaled like cocaine, or dissolved and injected like heroin. The price can range from a dollar or two per pill in school to as high as $20 per pill on the black market.

Students aren't the only ones stealing and dealing Ritalin. Stories of abuse by adults abound. Among those noted in USA Today:

  • An elementary school principal in Orem, Utah, was sent to jail for 30 days last October for substituting sugar pills for his students' Ritalin tablets. Utah has some of the strictest standards for dispensing drugs - only principals and school nurses have keys to locked drug cabinets and are allowed to dispense the medications.

  • Last year, school officials in Indiana found "many, many doses" of ADHD medications missing from a locked cabinet, and a nurse at another school was fined and ordered into treatment for stealing Ritalin and other drugs.

  • A computer technician at a middle school in Michigan was caught stealing Ritalin and sentenced to 24 days in jail.

Due to the increased abuse, Ritalin is now tightly controlled in pharmacies. Refills may not be included with original prescriptions and federal law prohibits prescriptions from being phoned in, even by doctors.

Federal officials are also concerned about the problem. Led by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congress launched an investigation at the end of November into the "theft," "illicit sale" and "any other manners" of abuse of these medications. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is publishing a brochure for school nurses asking that they keep all medications under lock and key and that they make sure students swallow their pills before returning to class.

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