Overview: Ritalin® is a drug used to treat
attention deficit-disorder (ADD) in children and adults. A central
nervous system stimulant, Ritalin (or methylphenidate) is similar
to both amphetamines and cocaine, although its effects are generally
milder and less pleasurable. Still, the increasing prevalence
of ADD has prompted concerns about the potential of the drug
— and others like it — for overuse.
Appearance: Several companies produce methylphenidate,
and tablets vary in appearance, depending on dosage and manufacturer.
Street Names: Vitamin R, Rit.
Actions: Although how, exactly, Ritalin relieves ADD symptoms
remains unclear, researchers believe that the drug alters biochemical
pathways involved in the screening of irrelevant stimuli by increasing
the action of neurotransmitters known as catecholamines.
Effects: Ritalin’s effects begin shortly after ingestion
and last about three hours. At low doses, methylphenidate increases
alertness and focus, while blocking hunger and fatigue. Objective
effects include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and
Side Effects: May include insomnia, rapid or arrhythmic
heart beat, dizziness, irritability, and headaches. More severe
reactions include agitation, changes in appetite and sleep habits,
weight loss, and facial tics. Overdose is possible.
Addiction Potential: While there is little evidence of
physical addiction to (or abuse of) Ritalin when used under medical
supervision, it can produce both tolerance and physical addiction
when used recreationally.
Legal Status: Methylphenidate is a Schedule II controlled
substance, and both production and distribution are tightly controlled.
Trends: The U.S. has the highest rate of both ADD diagnosis
and methylphenidate use in the world, with an estimated 1.5 million
U.S. children currently using the drug each school day, with
millions more taking such other ADHD medications as Adderall-XR®
Demographics: While use of Ritalin has declined in recent
years, prescription patterns involving similar drugs have soared,
primarily due to growing demand within the United States. In
2005, 1.9 million U.S. prescriptions were written for Ritalin,
while prescriptions for Adderall-XR and Concerta totalled 8.7
million and 8.2 million, respectively. During that same year,
use of methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine figured into 7,873
U.S. emergency-room visits.