Alarm at `zombie' pill use in UK

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The Independent Online
A UNITED NATIONS body will this week call for a World Health Organisation investigation into the medical effects of a stimulant drug which it says is being given to British children at a "staggering" rate.

A report by the UN's International Narcotics Control Board says that use of the drug methylphenidate, or Ritalin, has risen by 100 per cent in more than 50 countries in the past year.

The amphetamine-type drug is being prescribed by doctors to hyperactive children because it helps calm them down. But in Scotland, where its use is particularly widespread, drug-support groups say it is being sold illegally to adults.

The UN board warns that unless checks are introduced, levels of use in Britain could reach those in the United States, where one-year-olds are now being given the drug and up to 40 per cent of children in some school classes are using it.

In Britain, critics have claimed that doctors are creating classrooms of "zombies". The number of prescriptions has risen from 2,000 in 1991 to 92,000 last year. The National Health Service bill for Ritalin was pounds 1.6m last year and this year is expected to rise above pounds 2m.

MPs and paediatricians have called for an inquiry into the long-term effects of the drug, which is designed to help children with attention deficit disorder (ADD).

In its report, the UN calls on the governments in Britain and 10 other countries to "seek out possible over-diagnosis of ADD and curb excessive use".