Saturday, November 21, 2009

16. The Dangers of Ritalin Use

It seems to be remarkably easy to pursuade most Americans that popping a designer pill is the answer to nearly all problems. There is great irony, however, in the fact that many children in America are told, on the one hand, to "say 'no' to drugs," and then, on the other hand, to take a drug which is in many ways equivalent to amphetamines like speed and cocaine. Increasingly, friends of ADHD children are obtaining the drug and then snorting it or shooting it like cocaine to achieve an intense high (Ritalin Abuse). And the children are often naive about the dangers of Ritalin, thinking that, if doctors prescribe it for young children, it must be harmless.

Dr. Peter Breggin has become a strong advocate of the idea that widespread Ritalin use in America is causing far more harm than good. His book, Talking back to Ritalin, [3] presents a compelling argument that, despite the assurances from doctors that it is a safe ritalin humor drug, Ritalin is a very close cousin to amphetamines and exhibitis all of the same dangerous properties leading to addiction and abuse. He cites a 1998 study [18] which showed that the use of a childhood stimulant such as Ritalin "is significantly and pervasively implicated in the uptake of regular smoking, in daily smoking in adulthood, in cocaine dependence, and in lifetime use of cocaine and stimulants."

He also points out that Ritalin is classed with amphetamines in terms of its clinical effects. Ritalin is labelled "Schedule II" by both the DEA and the International Narcotics Control Board. Schedule II for a prescription drug indicates the highest possible potential for abuse. A study comparing Ritalin with cocaine claimed that "Methylphenidate [Ritalin], like cocaine, increases synaptic dopamine by inhibiting dopamine reuptake, it has equivalent reinforcing effects to those of cocaine, and its intravenous administration produces a 'high' similar to that of cocaine" [37].

Aside from its potential for abuse, and its potential to lead to abuse of other drugs later in life, long term Ritalin use, as prescribed, leads to several other adverse health issues. The shutting down of the digestive system suppresses appetite, with subsequent weight loss and stunted growth. By simulating a "fight or flight" reaction, it increases both blood pressure and heart rate [1], and may do other unknown damage to the heart. In March, 2000, a 14-year old boy, Matthew Smith, fell off his skate board and died suddenly. A subsequent autopsy showed severe heart damage, which the coroner suspected was due to the fact that he had been taking Ritalin since he was six years old. This has stirred up considerable discussion among parents of ADHD children regarding the safety of long-term Ritalin use (Matthew Smith Ritalin Discussion). Parents are now urged to screen their children for possible heart conditions if they are considering Ritalin as a treatment option.

More ominously, by overworking the dopamine system, long term Ritalin use may lead to Parkinson's disease much later in life. It has been demonstrated that other drugs that affect the dopamine system can cause Parkinson's disease. Through population studies, amphetamine use many years before was correlated with Parkinson's disease much later in life [10]. Adderall, another popular drug for treating ADHD, is an amphetamine, and Ritalin is a close cousin. In 1983, a defective batch of the street drug, synthetic heroin, also known as "China White", hit the streets of San Francisco, and a number of addicts who were unfortunate victims of this mistake acquired severe irreversible Parkinson's disease after just a single dose, due to the neurotoxin MPTP inadvertently present in the drug. While such a dramatic instantaneous effect would not be expected to occur with Ritalin, it is impossible to predict what will happen long term. I hope I am wrong, but I believe it is likely that we will see a substantial increase in the incidence of Parkinson's disease later in life among today's Ritalin and Adderall users.