Ritalin ordeal sparks warning

RISK: An empty Ritalin tablet, a pen (used as a snorting implement) and an aluminium rod, possibly used as a crusher.
ANDREW GORRIE/ The Dominion Post
RISK: An empty Ritalin tablet, a pen (used as a snorting implement) and an aluminium rod, possibly used as a crusher.

White as a sheet and hyperventilating, a Hutt Valley High School pupil was taken to hospital after using a makeshift device to snort Ritalin he had obtained from a classmate, his father says.

The incident led to a warning to parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to keep tabs on their medication to prevent the prescription drug being sold at schools.

The 15-year-old told his father he obtained the drug through a classmate and had been using it recreationally for some time. This week the father found two empty capsules, a stripped-down pen nib for snorting and a metallic crushing device in his son's room.

The father believes the boy was using the drug to stay awake playing Xbox.

Ritalin is commonly prescribed to treat behavioural problems in children diagnosed with ADHD. The active ingredient is methylphenidate. It acts in a similar way to amphetamine, producing a "high", raising blood pressure and increasing the heart rate.

Concerns have been raised in New Zealand about the drug's safety and it has been linked with deaths overseas.

The father said he took his son to Hutt Hospital at 3.30am last Saturday. The boy was having a panic attack, hyperventilating and had turned white. He was later discharged but was still "on edge", nervous and fatigued.

The father contacted the school but has refused to identify himself or his son for fear the boy could suffer reprisals.

He said the incident was disturbing and likely to be symptomatic of a much bigger problem in the school system. Challenged about his drug use, the son told him Ritalin was "not addictive".

"But even though a drug may not be addictive, it can be psychologically addictive so you get psychologically addicted to the high.

"Being such a traumatic, emotional experience of thinking my boy was dying, to `he is snorting drugs', put me in shock. I had a hundred questions but was too shocked and drained to address them."

The father now wants the school to alert other parents so those with ADHD children who are prescribed Ritalin know to monitor their child's drug supply and keep track of the capsules or pills. "If they have Ritalin in their houses it needs to be kept in a secure place. They all think their kids are angels."

Wellington Hospital emergency medicine specialist Paul Quigley said the boy's case was the first he had heard of where a child was taken to hospital after snorting Ritalin.

Although the drug was easily available from people "diverting" their prescriptions, the move to snorting it was worrying.

"Snorting a drug is similar to injecting it in terms of the effect on the body. Whoever is teaching them to snort that's particularly dangerous. That may mean we'll see an increase in [hospital] presentations."

Dr Quigley agreed that parents needed to take responsibility for monitoring children's drugs.

"Ritalin is a prescribed drug that should be taken in a prescribed manner."

Hutt Valley High School suspended another pupil last term for selling the cannabis-imitating substance Kronic. Principal Ross Sinclair said the school was investigating the alleged Ritalin incident but was hampered by the father's refusal to identify himself or the boy.

The drug was administered to some Ritalin-dependent pupils on school grounds by staff. Pupils were not permitted to carry it themselves.

The school took a hard line on drug-related misconduct but Mr Sinclair denied drug use was rife there.

The Dominion Post