Many drugs plague us in this setting we call modern society. The word drug by itself conjures up images of heathens slumping in the alleyways of Americas violent streets injecting train-tracked arms full of milky white euphoria. Perhaps even scarier might be those drugs prescribed to us daily by physicians we know and trust. Millions of prescription drugs with heavy side effects and sometimes-unknown characteristics and workings are being doled out to us every day. Ritalin, a drug prescribed to 1. 5 million American children aged 5 to 19, is particularly indicative of todays prescription drug problem.
Relatively little is known about how the drug works, what chemicals it changes in the fragile human brain, and yet we give it out to school aged children across America. The problem with Ritalin, however, is not the drug itself, but the way in which its prescribed to and taken by millions of people eager to fix a problem that really isnt defined. Ritalin, manufactured by the CIBA-Geigy corporation, is the brand name for Methylphenidate, a drug commonly used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD.
The pills come in 5, 10 and 10 milligram doses. (Bailey, 1998) Ritalin, which is close in chemical structure to cocaine, is considered dangerous enough to be classified as a schedule II controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances act. (Bailey, 1998) Illegal distribution of Ritalin could result in a 10,000 dollar fine and up to 45 years in prison. (Bailey, 1998) The exact function of Ritalin is unknown. It is known that Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that manipulates the neurotransmitter dopamine. (Bailey, 1998)
Drugs such as cocaine and other amphetamines work on the same principal. (Bailey, 1998) The main site of the drugs activity appears to be in the Cerebral cortex and the Reticular Activating System. (Chohan, 1998) CIBA-Geigy discloses many side effects for Ritalin including nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, skin rashes, itching, abdominal pain, weight loss, digestive problems, toxic psychosis, psychotic episodes, drug dependence syndrome, and severe depression upon withdrawal.
These severe and dangerous side effects are important to consider when deciding whether Ritalin is an appropriate drug to prescribe to children. Doctors often have trouble diagnosing ADD, which unfortunately defies definitive chemical tests. (Gibbs, 1998) To determine if a child has ADD, doctors depend on a list of symptoms described by the American Psychological Association (APA) to indicate the disorder.
This list describes potential tendencies observed in children said to have ADD, such as trouble paying attention, making careless mistake in schoolwork, trouble concentrating on one activity at a time, talking constantly at inappropriate times, running around in a disruptive manner when required to be seated or quiet, fidgeting and squirming constantly, trouble waiting for a turn, being easily distracted by things going on around them, impulsively blurting out answers to questions, often misplacing school assignments or toys and seeming not to listen even when directly addressed.
These traits must be exhibited for at least six months to be considered indicative of ADD. This is where the problem with Ritalin begins. These traits are common in many children, and some ore often used to define childhood. At what level are these characteristics to be considered abnormal? This is left to the doctors discretion. Doctors however have different ways of measuring the symptoms of ADD and one doctors oppinion can vary greatly from anothers.
Without chemical tests, we have no way of knowing if a person is really afflicted with ADD. In order to better classify ADD and prevent doctors from using the diagnosis to sum up every patients problems, the APA has developed a standard process which doctors should follow to determine whether or not a patient has ADD. First, the parents of the child in question must be interviewed to decide the circumstances under which the child exhibits the symptoms.
The interview is also used to ascertain a complete developmental, medical and family history of the patient. (Livingston, 1997) Then the physician must observe the child numerous times to elicit his view of the problem and to screen the patient for other disorders that may be the source of the problems (depression, anxiety, hallucinations, etc. ). (Livingston, 1997) Afeter this, the child should undergo a thourough medical examination to rule out neurological or sensory problems (poor hearing or eyesight) as the cause of the problem.
The child should then be subjected to tests of intelligence and achievement. (Livingston, 1997) After all these steps are completed, the physician should evaluate all the data collected on the patient and determine to what degree the child displays the patterns of ADD. (Livingston, 1997) This process, it would seem, should rule out any mistakes in the diagnosis and that only children truly afflicted with ADD would go on to receive Ritalin as a treatment.
However, in a recent survey of pediatricians, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, nearly 50 percent of doctors interviewed confess to spending an hour or less with a child before making a diagnosis and prescribing medicine (usually Ritalin). (Livingston, 1997) Because of the inherent difficulty in diagnosing ADD, Doctors often prescribe Ritalin to unaffected children. Children who are unnecessarily prescribed Ritalin are subjected to the many powerful side effects the drug carries with it.
Often children on Ritalin seem to lose their personality, become calm and quiet and, in some cases, develop depression. (Gibbs, Nov. 3, 1998) It has also been shown in scientific studies that, while Ritalin does not actually cause the disease, it can trigger Turrets syndrome in those children at risk for developing it. (Goldstein, 1997) One out of every hundred children taking Ritalin develop a motor or vocal tic. (Goldstein, 1997) Studies have also shown that children who take Ritalin often become abusers of illicit drugs. (Bailey, 1998)
Ritalin makes an obvious impact on the families interacting with children taking the drug. Ritalin has earned a bad reputation since its introduction and parents often question whether they are doing the right thing by putting their kids on the drug. Having a child diagnosed with ADD, when ADDs causes have yet to be defined, could cause a parent to think there may have been serious errors in the way in which they reared their children. Also, becaust Ritalin has a calming effect when taken, Parents often sense theire child has lost his or her personallity and are nor longer the children they have grown to love.
Perhaps the most affected party in the sphere of Ritalins influence is American society as a whole. In this modern day, Americans are looking to perfect themselves physically and mentally through medicne. Anything considered to be out of the ordinary has a chemical treatment to go along with it. Americans fail to realize that society is full of varying jobs and opportunities to contribute to the well being of the nation. Each of these requires a different person with a different mindset to perform the job optimally.
By eliminating mental variation through such drugs as Ritalin, Americans severly limit their resources which they will need to fill the next generations job openings with. Would a calm and stable mind really be well suited to the stock market, where hundreds of decisions are made every second? Would Ritalin be helpful to an artist or writer whose job it is to come up with new and fresh ideas? According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Ritalin prescriptions increased 600 percent between 1992 and 1997.
Such a startling report prompted the DEA to ask the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board to look into the situation. (Livingston, 1997) They released a report showing that Americans consume 90 percent of 8. 5 tons of Ritalin produced worldwide each year. (Livingston, 1997) With statistics like that, how long will it be before drug enhanced school children, as opposed to natures child, become the majority in America? Dr. Lawrence Diller, author of Running on Ritalin, described the situation well when he said, Americans are becoming more and more programmed to force their children into a mold.
There is an emotional cost and eventually there will be a physical cost of taking square and rectangular people and fitting them into round holes. Performance enhancers Ritalin, Viagra and Prozac will remain popular until peoplr question this goal. (Gibbs, Nov. 3, 1998) Ritalin, like all drugs, can be used for good purposes. It has helped many people with severe learning dissabilities overcome numerous obstacles. However, its usage requires a strict level of control on the individual and national level. As a Nation, America needs to decide where it should and should not apply its ever increasing medical knowledge.
Heightened regulations and monitoring of Ritalin prescribing practices could make Ritalin into the miracle drug it was intended to be. Much more research needs to be done though to understand how Ritalin works and what its longtem effects might be. At the same time, Alternative methods should be developed and explored in hopes of finding an even better treatment. Until such changes are made, Ritalin will continue to plague children, their families and ultimately, America as a whole; the countrys future could be one of drab, uniformed and unexpressive automatons.