Pubdate: Sun, 30 Jan 2000
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2000 The Register-Guard
Contact:  PO Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440-2188
Author: Diane Dietz, The Register-Guard

Ritalin's Role In Drug Abuse Uncertain

When did Joe Vegas start down the road to methamphetamine addiction and a 
full-on decade of despair?

Now entering his fourth week at the Passages drug and alcohol treatment 
program, Vegas has tried to pinpoint where he went wrong, and this is what 
he believes: He was lost at age 7, when his mother first gave him a Ritalin 

This news was received by Peggy Vegas, Joe's mother - who has suffered his 
addiction, his failed recoveries, his arrests - like a kick in the stomach.

"My God, what did we do?" she said.

The fear of causing an addiction haunts doctors and parents who are seeking 
the best treatment for a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Scientists have discovered a link between ADHD and drug abuse, but they 
still aren't clear about how Ritalin - and other commonly prescribed 
stimulant treatments - fits into the picture.

A study appearing in the August 1999 issue of "Pediatrics" has offered a clue.

Researchers studied 75 teen-age boys (plus control groups) with ADHD and 
found that those given Ritalin or other stimulants as children were far 
less likely to abuse drugs. With stimulant treatment, the risk fell by 85 

Studies are needed to confirm the results, but it appears that stimulants 
such as Ritalin protect kids from later drug abuse, according to the 
researchers. Critics contend the study was too small and imperfect to yield 
reliable results.

In Joe Vegas' mind, there's no question. The study's wrong. Ritalin leads 
to drug abuse.

"Ritalin and speed are the same thing whether people want to admit it or 
not," said Vegas, 28. "Take five or six or eight Ritalin, or do a hit of 
speed, it's the same thing. (On Ritalin), I'm as wired as I am off a hit of 

Vegas was the second youngest of four children. His father, Charles, was a 
foreman at a federal paint shop. Peggy was a stay-at-home mom.

 From the beginning, Joe was a handful. "He just bounces off the wall," 
Peggy Vegas said. "He never gets tired. He's very quick-thinking.

"School was a nightmare for him because he couldn't stay still."

Joe remembers, as a child, doing anything to get attention in the 
classroom. He'd crack jokes. He'd jump out of his seat and run out of the 
classroom - generally driving his teachers nuts. "I always thought (the 
teachers) hated me," he said.

At home, the story was similar. If his parents told him to do something, he 
wouldn't - or else he'd resist for hours - and the sensation was always the 
same. "Everybody was mad at me. I was a bad kid. That's what I thought."

By the sixth grade, he couldn't manage at school. Peggy decided to teach 
him herself, which meant standing over him every second while he did his 
work. It also meant continuing to give him a dose of Ritalin to improve his 
focus. Even then: "Mom was mad at me like the teacher was," he said.

At middle-school age, his friends began taking speed, he said. One of the 
kids pointed out that he was lucky; with Ritalin, he had a legal supply. 
The family had a large stock of Ritalin, so Vegas could take handfuls 
without being detected.

It felt good, he said. "A lot of times my mind is full of a million 
thoughts," he said. "When I did Ritalin or speed, I felt like I was a 
leveled out human being. I could function."

But by age 15, Vegas was out of control. He was so reckless, his mother 
wondered if he would see adulthood. She stuck with him through his high 
school studies, helping him earn a home-school diploma from the Garden Way 
Christian Academy.

Still, at age 18, he said he began "cooking" meth. In an essay, this is how 
he described it:

"I was a super cool, popular, trustable, lovable (guy) ever so quickly 
learning to be a con, rip off, worthless, paranoid, semi psychotic, super 
unpredictable guy. It all happened so quick, and I loved it."

He applied for and got more than 100 jobs, he said, but he hasn't kept many 
of them for more than a shift.

He has been in and out of jail on drug possession, theft and forgery 
charges, he said.

Recently, he noticed a 60-year-old man in lock-up who couldn't wait to get 
out to use again. He wondered if that would be his future. "I thought, 
`Man, I'm a loser.' "

His marriage didn't last a year, but it produced a daughter, now 6, whom 
Vegas is not able to see because he hasn't been interested in treatment, 
until recently.

"I don't think I've ever had a real relationship with anybody," he said. 
"I've burned all of my bridges. I'm ashamed of the things I've done to my 

Without Ritalin, he said, his life might have taken a different turn. "I'd 
like to dream and say I'd be a wonderful, upstanding member of the 
community, but I don't know. We'll find out where I go from here."
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