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What About Ritalin?

by Tina Blue
January 12, 2001

          One particularly controversial aspect of the diagnosis of ADD is the use of Ritalin and similar drugs to treat those who have been diagnosed. Ritalin is structurally and pharmacologically equivalent to Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), and both are used, often interchangeably, in the treatment of ADD.

          The simple fact that Ritalin is equivalent to what is, after all, a form of "speed," and that these drugs are routinely offered to children, is enough to shock and horrify many people. But such drugs are administered in microdosages (typically between 5mg and 20mg, three to four times daily), and both of them have a long history (about sixty years' worth) of use in treating ADD. The therapeutic effects of the drugs have been extensively studied, as have their potential side effects.

          Nevertheless, there are many troubling issues surrounding the use of Ritalin and other psychoactive drugs to treat ADD in children--recently even children as young as two and three years old! I have several articles planned about the danger that ADD may be overdiagnosed and that Ritalin and other drugs may be overprescribed, simply because children's lives are out of control in modern society, producing environmentally caused behavioral disorders that are then diagnosed and treated as inherent biological (medical) conditions requiring drug intervention.

          Furthermore, to a large degree education in our society has degenerated into little more than crowd control. The simple truth is that it is easier to manage an overpacked classroom full of energetic, bored, and poorly socialized children if you can drug a lot of them into compliance.

       In other words, I do believe that the ADD/ADHD label is frequently slapped onto a child when other factors are responsible for his behavioral or academic difficulties, and I also believe that Ritalin and other drugs are often indiscriminately and inappropriately prescribed when other treatment options should be tried first, and the drugs are often used in isolation when other therapies should be employed along with drug therapy.

          However, I also believe that true ADD is often underdiagnosed and that many people who would benefit greatly from drug therapy are deprived of that treatment by unwarranted fears and by ill-informed prejudice.

          I used to have precisely those fears and those prejudices--and yet I now use Ritalin myself (actually, the generic version, methylphenidate), and have done so since the summer of 1998. Let me tell you how this came about.

          I was diagnosed four times, between the ages of eighteen and forty-eight, with ADHD before I finally decided to try Ritalin. In a sense, of course, I was diagnosed much earlier than that by all those adults who accused me of having ants in my pants or of being a chandelier-swinger.

          But I really love my mind. My mind is my treasure. When all my college friends were messing around with drugs in the late sixties and early seventies, I wasn't even tempted to try, because I dreaded the thought that anything might change the way my mind worked.

          My only experience with psychoactive drugs was the time in 1968 when I was out late with my friendToby and started complaining that my mouth felt as though the entire Russian army had marched barefoot through it. I hate the thought of having bad breath, so I asked her if she had a piece of gum I could have. She handed me one, and I popped it into my mouth.

          What I did not know was that she had given me a piece of diet gum prescribed by her doctor for weight loss. The gum was full of Dexedrine!

          I already operate at a speed that most people can only imagine. I used to joke that I was on the verge of going nova at almost any moment. You don't want to know what I was like on Dexedrine. I didn't go to bed that night, or the next morning. I crashed hard, though, at about two in the afternoon, and did not wake up again until the following morning.   Even when I did wake up, I was groggy and stupid for most of that day.

          Everyone thought my little trip was a riot, but I was disgusted by the way I felt when I finally did wake up. I was genuinely angry at Toby, and I never again trusted her.

          When from time to time over the next thirty years a doctor would suggest that I should try Ritalin, I wouldn't hear of it. I was appalled at the very idea that doctors would push such drugs. One doctor even suggested Dexedrine once, and I nearly bit his head off. Toby's doctor had given her gum with Dexedrine, and now my doctor wanted to give me Dexedrine. It was enough to make me suspect that all doctors must be quacks or worse.