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Taking a Look at Kids and Legal Drugs. (On First Reading).

Some kids are taking "speed" at school--and it's all perfectly legal. In fact, school and child welfare officials often recommend that parents ask doctors to put their kids on drugs to modify behavior.

But there is a growing debate over the use of Ritalin and other drugs used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Statistics show an increase in the number of cases of ADHD and a rise in drug prescriptions.

Attention deficit disorder is now the most commonly diagnosed behavioral problem of childhood, affecting 10 percent of school age children in the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Some 4 million schoolchildren are estimated to be on Ritalin each year.

A report from IMS Health, a health information company in Plymouth Meeting, Penn., finds that prescription rates for Ritalin have increased 390 percent in the last five years.

"Before they came out with these drugs, how did we grow up?" asks Lenny T. Winkler, a nurse and legislator who sponsored a new law in Connecticut that prohibits school personnel from recommending the use of stimulant drugs to parents.

Now only doctors can recommend the drugs. If a parent decides not to use them, it is not grounds for the Department of Children and Families to take the child into custody as has been the case in some instances.

"If a child has a problem and it's diagnosed properly, I support that," Winkler says. "But I think teachers are far too quick to blame the problem on attention deficit and say to parents, 'This is what needs to be done.'"

Because there are no blood or lab tests for ADHD and other such learning problems, the diagnoses have always been controversial. While little is known for sure about how the drugs work, they seem to help children slow down and focus. Some physicians who have done research on Ritalin are alarmed at the state laws being introduced.

Minnesota passed a law similar to the Connecticut one earlier this session. It prohibits school administrators from requiring the use of stimulant medications as a condition of the child being re-admitted to school after a suspension.

It also states that a parent's refusal to place the child on such drugs does not constitute educational neglect. Some 23 bills have been introduced in other states.

"To argue that these treatments are inappropriate or ineffective just flies in the face of a scientific knowledge base that is impossible to ignore," says Howard Abikoff, director of research at the Child Study Center at New York University. "You can't close your eyes to this. It's made differences that are monumental in the lives of these kids and their parents."

When taken as directed, people with ADHD do not become addicted to Ritalin, and the drug may actually prevent drug abuse when the patient gets older.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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