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Hard Candy: New Ways Kids Get High

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Attention Deficit Medications

What's being abused:
Ritalin, Adderall, aka "Jif," "Skippy," "Vitamin R," "R-Ball"

How kids get high: Both drugs are stimulants (Adderall is, in fact, an amphetamine), and when taken in high doses their effects are similar to those of cocaine. Because Ritalin and Adderall are widely prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- some 5 million kids are on them -- teens can easily buy the drugs illegally from friends, dealers, or on the Internet for 50 cents to $1 a pill. Many abusers swallow the tablets or crush them and snort the powder. Some are looking to get high, while others take the drugs -- which are also powerful appetite suppressants -- to lose weight. And many rely on them as a study aid. "They increase focus and alertness so kids can hit the books longer with better retention," says Pasierb. "Some swear it's the difference between a B-plus and a C." Abuse rates almost double between the 8th and 12th grades, according to a NIDA-sponsored study.

The consequences: When misused, stimulant medications can be addictive. Taking high doses repeatedly over a short period of time can cause hallucinations, dangerously high body temperatures, rapid heartbeat, and potential cardiovascular failure. What's more, mixing Ritalin or Adderall with decongestant cold medicines may elevate blood pressure, while taking them with certain antidepressants can lead to seizures.

What you can do: Be alert to any unexplained changes in your child's behavior. A sudden turnaround in grades that can't be explained may be a red flag that your kid is abusing "Jif" or "Vitamin R." Other signs of abuse include dilated pupils, dry mouth, sudden weight loss, and rapid, extreme swings in mood and energy. If your child takes Ritalin or Adderall for ADHD, give her only a day's worth of pills at a time rather than handing over an entire month's prescription