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Ritalin abuse scoring high on college illegal drug circuit

(CNN) -- There's a popular drug on the streets with nicknames such as "Vitamin R" and "R-Ball" that's making its way into the college scene. But it's not for kicks -- students use this drug to improve concentration and study longer.

The drug is Ritalin, a mild stimulant commonly prescribed for young children to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

But on U.S college campuses, students are popping Ritalin without a doctor's prescription -- which is illegal -- before taking on all-night study sessions or to boost alertness during an important test.

"People find this drug enticing because they can get their academic work done quicker or do more in a shorter period of time," said Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, of the University of Wisconsin. "So for students who have put off work or are not very strong academically, we find some are using it to kind of counteract or remedy their problems."

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CNN's Linda Ciampa reports on the illegal misuse of the drug

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It's not just college kids who are turning to Ritalin. New reports suggest there is a growing trend of Ritalin abuse among younger teens or even adults bent on getting more done at work or keeping with today's fast-paced lifestyle.

Federal drug officials said Ritalin is among the top controlled prescription drugs reported stolen in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration also lists methylphenidate, Ritalin's generic name, among a dozen or so "drugs of concern."

There are health concerns surrounding this trend. Ritalin can increase a person's heart rate and blood pressure, among other problems.

"What it means, in rare situations, is the person is put at risk primarily for a cardiac arrhythmia," said Dr. Lawrence Diller, author of "Running on Ritalin." "Then there's irregular beating of the heart -- which can cause sudden death."

Still, Ritalin is safer than some drugs because the stimulant has not been produced in clandestine labs, regulators said. Also, it remains a safe and effective treatment for millions suffering from ADHD, according to the drug's maker, Novartis Pharmaceuticals.



RELATED STORIES:
Researchers learn how Ritalin works to calm hyperactivity
January 14, 1999
Group issues guidelines for monitoring Ritalin in children
November 9, 1998

RELATED SITES:
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Novartis
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