'Kiddie cocaine' trade claims a life

10th September 1999 at 01:00

OVERPRESCRIPTION of remedies to treat attention deficit disorder is leading to an illicit playground drugs trade which has already claimed the life of one schoolgirl.

The girl died after taking a drug she had bought illicitly at school, believing it to be amphetamine-based medication to treat ADD. Instead of buying a substance which would act as a mild stimulant, she had bought a powerful sedative which proved fatal.

The case was revealed in a study by the Centre for Independent Studies, State of the Nation 1999 - Indicators of a Changing Australia, which, among other findings, revealed a rapid increase in drug consumption over the past decade across the Australian population.

The study revealed that more and more children with psychological disorders are being prescribed drugs.

The study reported: "There has been a 21-fold increase in the prescription for attention deficit disorder since 1990.

"The Australian Medical Association has voiced concerns that many children being wrongly diagnosed as suffering from these disorders are taking the relevant drugs (mostly amphetamines) unnecessarily, with some attendant risks from sustained use.

"The over-prescription of ADD drugs has created a user-culture in some schools where children are selling the drugs to other children in the schoolyard."

The disorder, also known as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), is a condition characterised by impulsive behaviour and difficulties paying attention. Prescription drugs, such as the commonly prescribed dexamphetamines or the methylpheridate known as Ritalin, have a settling effect.

The condition has long been accused of being over-diagnosed by parts of the medical profession both in Australia and in other countries. While over-prescription has lead critics to dub the stimulants the "kiddie cocaine" of the schoolyard this has usually referred to its common usage among sufferers.

On the day that news of the girl's death broke a national survey of 10,000 Australians found that young girls aged 14 to 19 had now matched their male counterparts in illegal drug use with 51 per cent admitting they had tried an illicit substance, mostly cannabis, compared with only 33 per cent three years ago.

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