Prescribing rates for the drug, which is used to calm hyperactive children, have trebled in the past year and are 24 times what they were six years ago.
A study by a Southampton University researcher reveals that some children were given the drug four times a day for up to four years. Yet it found little evidence that the effects of the drug are monitored.
Figures from the Department of Health show that in the past 12 months 47,900 prescriptions for Ritalin were issued, compared with 14,700 in the previous year and only 2,000 in 1991.
The complex drug is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), whose symptoms include inattention, difficulty with organisation, forgetfulness, being easily distracted and talking excessively. Ritalin is claimed to enable the child to make use of its natural abilities to select, focus, shut out distractions and think before acting.
But a further report questions the very existence of ADHD and its treatment: "The way ADHD is uncritically accepted as a neurobiological condition suggests that it may be masquerading as a late-20th century Pilt- down man," it says.
The report, from the University of Nebraska, says ADHD is "a potent and desirable label of forgiveness because it attributes troubling behaviour to physiological forces outside an individual's control. No one ... is responsible or blameworthy for problem behaviour. It allows the good child to be separated from bad behaviour."Reuse content