When the school holidays arrive, Andrea Antunes makes sure her son Ruben, ten, has a break — not just from classwork, but from the Ritalin pills he takes each day.
Four years ago, Ruben was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a syndrome which causes hyperactivity, restlessness and inattention. His school told Andrea Ruben faced exclusion unless he took drugs to control his behaviour.
The drugs dull his hyperactive tendencies, but Andrea, 37, a mother of two from Norwich, dislikes them — in fact, she avoids them whenever possible.
Figures released last week showed prescriptions of Ritalin have quadrupled in the last decade — from 158,000 in 1999 to 661,463 in 2010 — with children as young as three taking the powerful medication.
This massive growth comes despite warnings from experts that the more children take ADHD drugs, the more ‘rare’ but lethal side-effects, such as suicidal thoughts and psychosis, become common.
This human toll was starkly revealed at the inquest last year of ten-year-old Harry Hucknall, who killed himself while on a high dose of Ritalin.
The youngster, a cousin twice-removed of the singer Mick Hucknall, had ADHD. The level of Ritalin found in his system was above the normal therapeutic level and he was also on drugs for depression when he was found at his home in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, in September 2010.
The West Cumbria coroner, Ian Smith, said doctors must be ‘extremely careful’ in prescribing drugs to
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