Sunday, September 18, 2005

Alarm as prescriptions of Ritalin to children reach a record high

The number of children being prescribed drugs for so-called behavioural disorders has soared to a record high, causing alarm that children are being unnecessarily "drugged into submission".

Prescriptions of Methylphenidate - most commonly sold as Ritalin - rose to 359,100 last year, a rise of 344,400 since 1995. Figures from the Prescriptions Pricing Authority reveal that there has been a 180-fold increase in prescriptions since 1991 when only 2,000 were issued in England.

The growing use of Ritalin - an amphetamine-based stimulant which improves concentration and is nicknamed the "chemical cosh" because of its calming effects - has alarmed critics. It is almost entirely prescribed to children under 16 in this country. Controversially, it has been estimated that one in 20 children suffers behavioural disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, for which Ritalin is prescribed.

But critics of the drug say that doctors give it to children who are merely displaying normal emotional changes experienced during childhood. Campaigners believe that the increasing use of Ritalin follows the trend in America where it has been prescribed to children as young as 15 months.

Last night, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, an organisation that campaigns against psychiatric violations of human rights, condemned the increasing prescription of drugs for children. "Too many psychiatrists are being irresponsible in prescribing mood-altering drugs which are pharmacologically similar to cocaine, and then claiming they have 'cured' children of their 'condition'," said a spokesman.

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