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The Times 21st Feb 2003

Kiddie coke: A new peril in the playground

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
the peril is not just to the labeled and "treated" but to all of the "playmates" on the playground. And who else knows what is available on the playground? Everyone should be up in arms against this cartel]

By Carol Midgely
Hyperactive children prescribed the stimulant Ritalin are selling it to schoolfriends. With more than 220,000 prescriptions a year

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
surely a few zeros must be missing. CHADD has fallen down on the job]

, childcare professionals fear an epidemic of amphetamine abuse

AFTERNOON BREAK TIME in the chilly toilet block of a school in northern England and a cluster of children gather hopefully around a pony-tailed, 14-year-old girl. She pulls a metallic strip containing small, white tablets from her bag. There are stifled giggles and whispers; a few coins change hands. The school bell rings and the pupils disperse, chatting giddily as they return to their lessons.

Few adults could guess what was being sold at this respectable comprehensive school. Most parents would be, to borrow a description used by one of these pupil’s mothers, “gobsmacked” if they realised how modern children are getting their kicks. A growing number are looking beyond alcohol, glue or even cannabis, and turning to Ritalin. That’s right, the wonder drug used to treat children suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now a much sought-after “upper” in the classrooms of Britain.

But how can this be? How can a medicine used to calm some children down give others a buzz? How do children know about it? The answer is that Ritalin, also known as Methylphenidate, is an amphetamine, a class B drug that works on the central nervous system and, in a child not suffering from attention-deficit disorder has a similar effect to cocaine. It has acquired a street credibility among drug dealers, who call it “kiddie coke”.

Most children seeking a quick thrill simply swallow the pills that they buy for between 50p and 60p each. The more streetwise have learned that if they crush them into powder and snort it the hit is more powerful. “It makes you feel giddy, like you can’t stop laughing”, says one 13-year-old girl who has taken Ritalin twice. “But after a while you feel sick and a bit tired.” Will she take it again? “Definitely.”

The problem has been widespread for years in America, where an estimated one in 30 people aged between 5 and 19 has a prescription for Ritalin and where its street names are “Vitamin R” and “The R Ball”. It is on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s top ten list of most stolen prescription drugs and stories of older students snorting and even injecting Ritalin to get them through exams or essay writing are legion. As with most trends, Britain is starting to follow America’s lead.

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
And you can track the NIMH experts who have been the Pied Pipers, straight from the US to all of the other capitols of the world...but just of the developed countries of the world...those with money to spend.]

Although Ritalin abuse is still in its infancy here, police and child professionals believe there is potential for it to become huge if steps are not taken to stamp it out. The sheer growth in the amount of Ritalin being prescribed by doctors means there could soon be enough tablets sloshing around the system to supply every secondary school in the country.

Ten years ago there were about 3,000 Ritalin prescriptions written for children in Britain. Last year there were more than 220,000. Often several months’ supply are collected at once, meaning that there could be up to 1,000 tablets in a house at any one time. All it takes is for the drugs to be stolen from the bathroom cabinet at home or a teacher’s drawer at school, or for an attention-deficit disorder-diagnosed child to decide to sell his prescription, and you have a ready made industry.

This is what happened at this school, to the horror of parents and teachers. Last week three pupils aged 14 and under were suspended and given final warnings after they admitted dealing Ritalin

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
we make normal children "patients," drug addicts and drug pushers.]

. They were also fingerprinted and cautioned by the police. It all came to light when an elder sister of one of the pupils heard what was happening at school and told her father. He immediately contacted the police and grounded his younger daughter.

Neither the school nor the pupils can be identified but all three families agreed to speak to The Times to warn others about the dangers of Ritalin abuse. None of the children knew what they were really dealing with, and assumed that if doctors were giving it out to one child in their year, then it must be safe for anyone.

Alex, one of the pupils involved, has attention-deficit disorder

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
ADD/ADHD/HKD...whatever the name, the acronym, it is a fraud, it is never ever a disease. Tell that to the good Dr. Eric Taylor, lead pied piper on your shores. Ask him: Where is the test?]

, but was told by another pupil that she would be “a mug” not to sell her Ritalin. Her tablets are carefully controlled at school and administered one at a time by an auxiliary teacher. So Alex stole a full, unopened packet from her mother’s handbag, took it to school and enlisted two classmates to sell it. In two days up to 15 pupils bought the pills for 50p each.

Lynn froze in shock when she got the phone call saying that her daughter, Katy, had been helping to sell the drugs. Laura, Katy’s best friend, admitted to her father when confronted that the two girls had been selling it on Alex’s behalf and had taken some of the tablets themselves as an experiment. Katy confessed that she had swallowed three and a half tablets in one day alone. Another girl, she said, mashed it up and snorted it through a rolled up piece of paper.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Lynn says. “Apparently some of the kids had been taking it with alcohol before they went into school. I can’t believe that they know about these things – I didn’t even know what Ritalin was myself. They say that taking it makes them look cool, gives them status.”

Katy, a pretty girl in hipster jeans and a crop top, is more sanguine about the matter, though she swears that now the police have explained what Ritalin is, she will never take it again. “Some of the other girls said it made them laugh all the time, but it just gave me butterflies in my stomach,” she says, then shrugs her shoulders. “You do it to be cool, because everyone else is doing it.” None of the teachers noticed anything different in the children’s behaviour.

The issue is not whether Ritalin is a good or bad thing – thousands of grateful parents say it has transformed their child’s life, others are vehemently opposed to it. The question is whether it is being properly managed in schools and whether doctors are giving parents enough information about what it contains. Excessive use can lead to psychotic episodes, increased heartbeat, mood swings and, in extreme cases, liver damage.

Detective Constable Bruce Davies, chemical liaison officer with Durham police, believes more – much more – can be done to stop it getting into the wrong hands

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
This, dear people is not the issue...there is zero legitimacy to ADD, these behaviors are never a disease, as tough as some people find their kids to deal with, there should be no diagnosing/labeling and then of "treatment," no cabinets full of addictive drugs in the schools]

. He is so concerned about the situation that he has instigated a special Medication in Schools course in the North East with a senior educational psychologist, Donna Boutilier.

The aim is to educate school staff about the importance not only of keeping Ritalin and other medicines locked away but of documenting and monitoring every drug that comes into the school. The pilot course, run by Darlington Education Authority and Durham police, is Home Office approved; it is proving so successful that it is likely to be adopted nationally over the next few years.

Davies was alerted to the potential scale of the Ritalin problem three years ago when he was contacted by a local pharmacist. A worried parent had found a white tablet still in its blister pack in her daughter’s schoolbag and took it to the chemist to find out what it was. The girl admitted she had paid or it at school. It was Ritalin. She said a 12-year-old boy in her class who took the drug on prescription had taken to selling them as highs”.

“When I went to the school I expected just one or two pupils on methylphenidate,” Davies says. “Out of 300 kids, there were 30 on it. When I looked at how the drugs were being kept it was an absolute horror story. There were about 300 tablets in an unlocked drawer just held in envelopes and packets. There was no auditable record of where it had gone. When I interviewed the boy he said he got pestered every day of the week by other kids wanting his Ritalin off him.”

During the course, which has been attended by all scales of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, Davies warns that children can no longer be allowed to take their own pills to school. There have been cases of children being mugged for their tablets. Adult pushers have learnt to mix it with speed and sell a wrap for up to Last month dealers were found selling Ritalin on the streets of Edinburgh.

Janice Hill, who runs the drugs advice group Overload Network, went out in Edinburgh to prove that Ritalin was being sold by dealers. Within half an hour she had been offered a tablet for “In America there are more kids who abuse Ritalin than cocaine,” she says. “But now it is happening here. We had one wee chap who went to school with a month’s worth and came back with only 8 tablets. Kids are sitting ducks if they are carrying this stuff.”

Many parents confirm that their children’s medication is often dished out at school by a secretary, a dinner lady or, in some cases, sixth form prefects

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
And, if need be, these people, though not the main culprits, should be prosecuted for being illegal, addictive substance intermediaries.]

. The stories get more worrying. Young girls like the drug because it helps them to stay slim by suppressing appetite. Indeed, years ago it was used in a different form as a slimming drug. Lynn has heard of a woman who gets Ritalin for her child by exaggerating his hyperactivity symptoms but takes it herself to aid weight loss. Older brothers steal their sibling’s Ritalin and sell it on the streets.

Dave Woodhouse, who is a psychology lecturer at Teesside University and runs a clinic for non-drug treatment of attention-deficit disorder, says: “Ritalin abuse is not at epidemic proportions yet but if you consider that the number of prescriptions has increased tenfold in recent years you can see how much potential is there.”

Alex told her mother that, because the drug came from the doctor, she presumed it would be OK to hand it round. She wanted some money to buy a CD. Her mother is furious that the doctor never told them Ritalin was an amphetamine

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
and it is, essentially, and according to the US-DEA and the UN-INCB, an amphetamine]

. “I feel terrible because it was my bag that she stole it from,” she says. “If I had known what it was I would never have let it out of my sight. I have to be honest and say Ritalin has been a wonder drug for us – it has changed my child’s behaviour completely – but I should have been told what it was. I am an intelligent person and I should have been treated like one.”

Laura’s father supports the school’s decision to give the children final warnings, but says he now lives in fear of what other drugs may be pushed on to children. “My first thought was to ring the school and check that all these kids were still alive. It’s terrifying to think what might have happened and something has to be done quick. I’m ashamed my kid has been linked to drugs, but she’s a good girl and I’m convinced it was mainly out of naivety.”

DC Davies agrees that pushers will stop at nothing when it comes to targeting children. He recalls a recent incident in which there was an influx of illegal diazepam tablets from India and Pakistan which were selling for 0 a time around Darlington and Newcastle. They were found to produce horrendous side effects when taken with alcohol. Police warned addicts not to buy them and the market clammed up. It later transpired that they had been sold for 10p a tablet to young children outside a special school.

Davies says instant preventative measures can be taken. Children can be stopped from taking their Ritalin to school. Schools can introduce locked metal medicine cabinets for storage. One of his achievements has been to persuade many doctors to “split prescribe” – send half a child’s dosage directly to school so it cannot be intercepted. “It is not that schools are behaving recklessly. Most of the time it is a case of good intent, bad practice,” he says. “But we are dealing with synthetic cocaine here. It is a big deal. And we have a raft of young people who have been on Ritalin for a number of years, perhaps, and who are moving towards adulthood with this knowledge. When this happens, we could be looking at full scale ritual abuse.” In other words, we could be peering at the tip of the iceberg.

Some details have been changed to preserve anonymity

February 21, 2003

This ‘chemical cosh’ is not the answer

CRITICS of Ritalin say it is a convenient “chemical cosh” for children whose true troubles may be rooted in allergies and social problems

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
social, environmental, home, school, peer problems yes, but it cannot be proven that such patterns of troubled, troublesome behaviors have an antigen/antibody...allergic basis. Medically speaking these are normal children]

. A leading campaigner against the drug was the Teesside University child psychologist Professor Steve Baldwin. Three years ago he launched the Cactus Clinic, which offered drug-free treatment of special diets, counselling and psychotherapy. He invited referrals from GPs and launched a pilot research study into 100 children in whom ADHD had been diagnosed.

Baldwin was killed in the Selby rail crash and the clinic closed. Now, with a fund set up by his relatives, the clinic will reopen on February 28 – the second anniversary of his death. It will be headed by Dr Dave Woodhouse, a child psychiatrist and principal lecturer in social sciences and law at Teesside University. Woodhouse says: “When a child is placed on Ritalin he or she appears to make an improvement. But it is not necessarily a long-term fix. Side-effects can include aggressiveness and psychotic episodes – problems associated with ADHD itself.”

Research is steadily uncovering links between food and hyperactivity. Last year St Barnabas Church of England First and Middle School in Drakes Broughton, Worcestershire, banned from its lunch menus 27 colourings and preservatives linked to ADHD. One in three parents said their youngsters were better behaved while 18 per cent reported that their offspring were sleeping better.

The Cactus clinic has two nutritional experts, who perform hair analysis for minerals and food-absorbtion levels; blood analysis for sensitivity to food and chemicals, and any other allergies; and a urine analysis for metabolic function. From the results of the tests, children are put on individual diets to avoid allergenics, with supplements to correct deficiencies. Zinc supplement seems to provide most benefit. “We are just starting the psychological programme, which involves counselling and behavioural therapy – and will also work with the parents,” says Woodhouse.

Mandy Simpson’s nine-year-old son Damian travels from Glasgow to attend the Cactus clinic. Mandy says: “He seemed quite normal as a baby, but after four months he would scream if you picked him up. By the time he was three, it was like having a little madman.” ADHD was diagnosed and Damian was put on Ritalin at the age of six, which at first seemed to help. “Within a couple of months he went from a happy-go-lucky kid to a child that wanted to die. He hated it so much he tried to kill himself, to stab himself with a pair of screwdrivers. He was on six tablets a day. I tried to cut the dose but without help it was difficult. The clinic got Damian off Ritalin in three months, and his behaviour is better.”

The number of parents worried about Ritalin is growing. Janice Hill, the director of Overload, a charity providing information on medication, has been contacted by the families of 28,000 children on Ritalin who are concerned at its effects.


Overload Network, Flat 1, 58 North Fort Street, Leith, Edinburgh E87 HMP

ADHD Family Support Group, 1a High Street, Dilton Marsh, Westbury, Wiltshire, BA13 4DL

A new lobby group, Stimulants Are Not The Answer (Santa), is calling for legislative changes to regulate the availability of Ritalin

[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
I agree, stimulants, psychiatric drugs generally, are never the answer. This is another drug cartel, the legal, more dangerous, better funded, better connected (read government) one.]

Some names in this article have been changed to preserve anonymity

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