The History of Ritalin (Methylphenidate)

by Susan Willets on September 12, 2008

What Are Ritalin’s Early Origins?

Ritalin’s origins began many decades ago when research scientists began to experiment with a drug using natural stimulants including ephedrine and caffeine. Initially, it was tested on lab rats and the studies revealed that the rats were more focused and easier to manage. By 1950, Ritalin was introduced as a treatment for Mohr’s Syndrome, not for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Mohr’s Syndrome is characterized by a cleft palate, an enlarged roof of the mouth and a forked tongue. Eventually methylphenidate’s calming and stabilizing effects were used to treat ADHD and ADD.

In 1980, the National Institute of Mental Health (NHIM), officially acknowledged ADHD as a childhood syndrome. Ritalin sales increased significantly and it became one of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD. Novartis, a medical laboratory located in the United States, is a significant producer of the drug. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Novartis faced several lawsuits from parents of children who used Ritalin and developed severe side effects, including suicidal thoughts, and whose children died as a result of taking the drug.

The Demographics of Methylphenidate

In 1902, symptoms of ADHD were listed in medical textbooks, but sufferers were described as mentally retarded, culturally disadvantaged or emotionally disturbed children. After research was conducted during the 1940’s it was decided that hyperactive and impulsive children suffered from Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood. By 1980, this condition was renamed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The fact of the matter is that it can be very difficult to make an ADHD diagnosis since its symptoms can mimic many other disorders and illnesses.

In 1997, 5 million children were listed as using psychotropic drugs, Ritalin being among the most common. Ritalin use has increased by 700% since 1990. By the year 2000, it was prescribed for approximately 7 million children. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is diagnosed eight times more often in boys than in girls. Of these diagnosed children, 90% use a stimulant to help control the disorder. 70% of children with ADHD are prescribed Ritalin. 20% use its counterpart, the generic form known as methylphenidate and an amphetamine known as Dexedrine.

The United States produces 90% of the world’s Ritalin. It produces, sells and distributes more methylphenidate than any other country worldwide. In addition to the United States, methylphenidate is frequently used in the United Kingdom and Germany. It is used in many European countries, but in much smaller percentages than in the United States. Some countries don’t use the drug at all, such as Sweden, which has banned the drug. Australia comes closest to the United States for usage of Ritalin and Canada’s usage is increasing significantly.

As long as schools, psychiatrists, pediatricians and families identify excessive impulsive and hyperactive behavior in children, it is likely that the prescription of Ritalin, methylphenidate and other forms of Ritalin will increase in the United States and worldwide.

Next post: Disorders and Ritalin Use