While prescriptions for Ritalin (methylphenidate) grew dramatically in
the 1990s, reports of its illegal use also rose. Here's the range of official
statistics on the problem:
According to the University of Michigan's annual "Monitoring the Future"
studies, from 1988-1999 the percentage of seniors who reported using Ritalin
without a prescription went from 0.3 percent to 2.4 percent. In fact, in its
1994 report, data indicated that at that time, there were more U.S.
high-school seniors who abused Ritalin than there were seniors who were legally
prescribed the drug.
According to a 1996 Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) study of three states
(Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Indiana), roughly 30-50 percent of adolescents
in drug treatment centers reported "non-medical" use of methylphenidate.
However, it wasn't identified as their primary drug of abuse.
A 1998 Indiana University study of 44,232 students found that 6.8 percent of
ninth-graders surveyed reported using Ritalin illicitly at least once.
The Drug Enforcement Agency's "Drugs of Concern" Bulletin
lists Ritalin alongside cocaine,
LSD and ecstasy. Testifying before the House Subcommittee in May 2000, DEA
Deputy Director Terrance Woodworth
said that the extent to
which adolescents are abusing methylphenidate is unknown, but that anecdotal
evidence suggests that its incidence seems to have increased with the
availability of the drug. In his statement to the committee, Woodworth said
that "continued increases in the medical prescription of these drugs without
the appropriate safeguards ... can only lead to increased stimulant abuse among
The Drug Abuse Warning Network's 1999 report on drug-abuse
related visits to hospital emergency departments, shows 1,478 mentions for
methylphenidate abuse, down from 1,728 in 1998. (In contrast, there were
168,763 cocaine-related visits to hospital emergency rooms.)
 The interpretation of the "Monitoring the Future" data appeared in an October 1995 press release from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
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