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May 6, 1988

The Ritalin Controversy: What's Made This Drug's Opponents Hyperactive?

JAMA. 1988;259(17):2521-2523. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720170007005

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A WAVE OF ADVERSE publicity involving methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin), a drug that has been used for more than 30 years to treat children and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, has created concern that public opinion may eventually affect medical practice.

There appears to be growing belief on the part of some of the public that the drug has dangerous side effects, that schools want to have it prescribed, and that psychiatrists are eager to label children as having a condition that may not even exist. Among the recent developments:

  • A suit was filed in Georgia against a public school district and against the American Psychiatric Association.

  • At least eight medical malpractice suits have been filed, five of them recently in Massachusetts.

  • The defense attorney for a 15-year-old youth convicted of killing a classmate with a baseball bat argued that his client's behavior may have been affected by taking methylphenidate.