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Children given drugs at 'learning clinics'

South Korean parents buy Ritalin pills to boost pupils' concentration

PUSHY PARENTS in South Korea are taking healthy children into clinics to get them prescriptions for Ritalin and other drugs that could boost their academic performance.

The centres, some of which advertise themselves as "learning clinics", offer drugs that are usually taken by pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to prolong their concentration and boost self-esteem.

The drugs, known by such trade names as Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate and Penid, all contain methylphenidate (MPH), which has potential side effects including loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nausea, anxiety, hallucinations, dizziness and depression.

Parents hope the drugs will help their children study longer and do better in the country's highly competitive national exams.

In affluent Gangnam and Bundang in Seoul, up to 20 clinics and medical centres, including child psychiatry hospitals, are prescribing the drugs.

Sales this year have risen 77 per cent compared with last. Local media have accused the centres of prescribing the drugs to those who do not need them to drum up sales.

Kyung Kim, an author and journalist who took MPH-type drugs as a student without her parents' consent, was surprised to see how easily pupils were now being prescribed them.

After filling in one of the clinic's 30-point questionnaires, she was told that she should be buying the drugs. Questions that parents were asked about their children included whether they were talkative, forgot things such as homework and were sometimes distracted.

"These questions would put even the most mildly forgetful student on the list for treatment," Ms Kim said. "It's just normal that children can't concentrate on learning. Because of our reliance on cramming, many children appear distracted. But parents think children have a mental disorder."

Baroness Susan Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford university, wrote in The TES magazine last month she was concerned by the growing number of children in England - estimated at 1 to 2 per cent - being given methylphenidate.

Food for Thought, TES magazine, page 14

I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE LIKE CAFFEINE

A UK student without ADHD who bought Ritalin from a friend described how she used it for essay-writing.

"I thought it was going to be like caffeine, but it was very different,"

she said. "You don't just feel awake, you feel unbelievably focused, so you can sit down and write an essay and not get distracted by your friends, the TV or the phone ringing.

"You have to be working when you take it, though, otherwise you put all your focus into tidying your room or something. The only side effect I had was difficulty getting to sleep."

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