The Dark side of a Wonder Drug-A Selected Collection of Testimony on the Safety
of Ritalin


"We give our children every day, yet we punish adults for taking speed,"
stated a concerned parent(Ritalin Zone). A trip to the principal's office used
to mean big trouble. These days, more kids are showing up in the school office
just to get their midday dose of Ritalin. Ritalin, the drug used to treat
hyperactivity in children, is being seized on by a generation worried about
controlling inappropriate behavior. But some doctors think Ritalin is being
prescribed to children who are simply having trouble in school. The numbers
suggest they have good reason to worry. The number of prescriptions for Ritalin
increased four-fold from 1990 to 1995, making the stimulant one of the most
prescribed drugs in the country. No one knows exactly what's behind the surge in
Ritalin use, but experts speculate it's due to everything from increased
awareness of attention disorders in schools to teachers and parents becoming
less tolerant of unruly behavior.

Some local school offices have become virtual noon-time pharmacies. At one
Ottawa-area board of education, the number of medications dispensed to students
by office administrators has increased 20 per cent over the past 18 months. A
good chunk of those pills are Ritalin. "We always worry that we're a half-step
away from giving someone the wrong dosage," says John Beatty, the board's
superintendent of school operations(Ritalin Boy). "In certain school systems
there's been a teacher who has seen it work and they'll start suggesting it as
an option for all children who are acting out," said Linda Budd, a St. Paul,
Minn., psychologist who has written the book Living With the Active/Alert Child.
"We've got some teachers we call "Ritalin bullies' - he's not paying attention
to me so he needs Ritalin"(Ritalin Zone). Marcia Ruberg, a school psychologist
in Cherry Hill (N.J.) School District, said the number of children taking
Ritalin varies greatly from class to class, depending on "the teacher's belief
system"(Ritalin). At some schools, children as young as seven are asked to take
their Ritalin themselves. The little blue pills have become so common in school
yards that some kids are reportedly selling their spare Ritalin to friends, who
take it in the hope of getting a buzz. "Every parent wants their child to be at
the top of the class," says Dr. Andre Cote, clinical director of the Children's
Mental Health Treatment Center at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. "What we might be
seeing is that people are trying to improve their kids' performance by giving
them medication"(Health: Ritalin).

Others worry that Ritalin has become an easy answer for busy families
trying to cope with a hyperactive or aggressive child on their own. Dr. Thomas
Millar, a retired Vancouver child psychiatrist, believes ADHD is not a disorder,
but behavior that discipline and better parenting can fix. "Ritalin may calm
the child," says Millar, "but it does nothing to increase his or her tolerance
for life's demands, and when the Ritalin runs out, the symptoms return''(ADHD:
Ritalin). Even proponents of Ritalin fear that normal, rambunctious children
may be being labeled with a disease for which there is still no clear test.
"Basically, you are taking children who are in conflict with adults and drugging
them," said Dr. Peter R. Breggin, a Bethesda, Md., psychiatrist and leading
opponent of the drug. "You have a child who is depressed, who can't concentrate,
who is having trouble in school and you're drugging him instead of saying what
can we do to attend to the child's needs"(Discover Ritalin). Lawrence H Diller
MD, agrees with Dr. Breggin by saying, "It is easier to medicate a child than
work with a dysfunctional family, decrease the size of a large classroom or
increase funding for special education"(Wonder Drug). Part of the problem is
that while the experts stress that any child who may have an attention disorder
should be thoroughly assessed to rule out other problems, it can take months,
even a year or more, to get a referral to a specialist. "When the mother goes
and sees the family physician and says, "The teacher told me little George can't
sit still, he wanders all over the class, he has difficulty concentrating,' the
general practitioner may be tempted to say, "Well I know what your problem is,
take that pill and come and see me in two weeks,' "says Dr. Peter Byonsen, a
child psychologist(Team Ritalin).

As many as two million children have been diagnosed as having Attention
Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The preferred form
of treatment for these alleged