It is becoming widely known that the use of the ADD/ADHD medication Concerta can cause suicidal thoughts and tendencies in young people who are prescribed the drug. However, this medication also has a high potential for abuse – particularly among young people.

Concerta is a form of Ritalin (methylphenidate), a drug commonly prescribed for children and young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity “disorder,” a diagnosis that is becoming increasingly common. As it turns out, Concerta in large doses produces a “high” – similar to that of cocaine and methamphetamine. But recreational use is only part of the equation.

Concerta abuse is increasing on college campuses as well – because it is considered a “study drug.” According to students who take Concerta and similar drugs without prescriptions, it helps them to better focus on their academic work. Studies show that over a third of all college students have abused prescription stimulants like Concerta over the course of their time in school. One college co-ed told her school newspaper, “You have so much more free time in college…it’s unstructured things that create problems. I can always push things off more; I’m too distracted, I’m too anxious, I’m too tired. There’s always an excuse.”

These young people often get their pills from friends, but there are always “pushers” who are ready to offer students the medication. Often, these are fellow students who have prescriptions from their physicians, who wind up selling their supply to classmates. These pills, which cost approximately $6 apiece when purchased at a pharmacy, can go for $10 each or more on the campus “black market” – particularly around the time of final exams.

Heightened performance and better ability to focus is only one reason students abuse drugs such as Concerta. One reason has to do with a Concerta side effect: loss of appetite. This is not uncommon among young women struggling with body image and self-esteem issues. Some will take Concerta in order to lose weight. There are also recreational users who simply enjoy the stimulation. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with many drugs, the body builds up a tolerance – so over time, it takes larger doses to produce the same effect.

Ironically, Concerta was designed as an “extended release” medication. In 2010, the FDA issued a regulation requiring that patients being prescribed a stimulant for the first time receive a slow-release version. Unlike Ritalin, Concerta takes a few hours for the effects to kick in – and those effects can last for up to 12 hours. However, abusers usually crush the pills or remove the drug from its capsules, then either snort it like cocaine or inject it like heroin in order experience the effects in a shorter amount of time.

In addition to suicidal thoughts and psychotic episodes (such as hallucinations), abuse of Concerta can have devastating physical effects as well. These can include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and – for those who inject the drug – infection and damage to the vascular system. Abusers can experience gastrointestinal problems as well.

Concerta is dangerous enough when used as directed for treating ADD/ADHD. More attention needs to be brought to the dangers of abuse by those who have no real medical need as well.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.