Pubdate: Thu, 22 Nov 2001
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Johnny Diaz


College students under pressure to excel use the drug as a study aid 
but also to party harder.

MIAMI - Before he studies for a midterm or a final, a 20-year-old 
University of Miami pre-law student pops a Ritalin pill.

Called Vitamin R or the "cramming drug," the small white pill keeps 
him and some of his dorm mates awake and increases their 
concentration. But illegal and abusive use of the drug could also 
come with some serious side effects.

"I would go for hours studying when I took the Ritalin," said the 
student, who asked that his name not be used. "In college, there is 
so much pressure to succeed, and this is Miami, where people want to 
go out and have fun, too. Sometimes you have to turn to alternative 
methods to succeed."

Where college students in the past drank pots of coffee or popped 
diet pills to stay awake while cramming, a growing number are now 
illegally using Ritalin.

Since 1995, the drug - widely prescribed to treat attention 
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD - has ranked on the Drug 
Enforcement Administration's list of most stolen medications, said 
Gretchen Feussner, a pharmacologist with DEA.

"It's like speed," Feussner said. "[Students] know it's going to keep 
them awake. They know they can party hardy. What they don't know [is] 
. . . if you took cocaine and put it in a pill and took it at a low 
dosage, it would do exactly the same thing. It's a serious drug."

More-Visible Issues

National statistics are not available on illegal Ritalin use among 
college-age students, partly because Ritalin abuse tends to be 
dwarfed by more-visible issues, such as alcoholism and abuse of such 
party drugs as ecstasy.

During final exams this spring, University of Miami officials posted 
warnings around the Coral Gables campus about the negative effects of 
using unprescribed Ritalin.

Jon Shaw, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the 
University of Miami, said one of his college patients hides his 
Ritalin at night because he fears his dorm mates might try to swipe 
some pills.

Students say they are given the pills by friends or buy them for 
about $5 a tablet from people who have been prescribed the drug.

Eric Heiligenstein, clinical director of psychiatry at the University 
of Wisconsin-Madison's Health Services, said he thinks Ritalin abuse 
is pervasive on campuses nationwide.


"On most college campuses, you can go to the library and probably 
walk away with some [Ritalin] easily," he said.

Ritalin, a stimulant classified in the same category as cocaine and 
methamphetamines, is slowly absorbed into the blood stream, 
stimulating the brain and creating a chemical reaction that allows 
people who are distracted or hyperactive to keep their attention 
focused. Legal use of the drug has skyrocketed, with a threefold 
increase among children between 1991 and 1995.

But it can be dangerous if abused.

"There is a potential for harm if you have a predisposition for 
seizures or cardiac problems," said Aldo Morales, chairman of the 
department of psychiatry at Imperial Point Medical Center in Fort 
Lauderdale, Fla.

A spokeswoman for the drug's manufacturer, New Jersey-based Novartis, 
said the company was aware of the recreational usage of Ritalin on 
college campuses.

Denise Brashear said the company was creating a brochure on how to 
properly take the drug. The brochure will be dispensed to school 
officials and parents of children with ADHD. The drug already is 
packaged with warnings that cite possible side effects.
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