MATTHEW’S STORY: Matthew was a teenager who had been on Ritalin for seven years. He died suddenly in March 2000. Although he had no history of heart problems, the autopsy revealed clear signs of small-vessel damage. His parents were told by one of the medical examiners that the heart of a healthy, fully grown man weighs about 350 grams. Matthew’s heart weighed 402 grams. His death certificate reads: “Death caused from long-term use of methylphenidate (Ritalin).”

High doses of Ritalin lead to similar symptoms such as other stimulant abuse, including tremors and muscle twitching, paranoia,1 and a sensation of bugs or worms crawling under the skin.

One 17-year-old, after snorting crushed Ritalin pills and staying awake for days, went psychotic, killed his parents and severely injured his brothers and sister with a hatchet. A 14-year-old, on Ritalin since he was 7, beat another boy to death with a baseball bat.

Ritalin can cause aggression, psychosis and an irregular heartbeat that can lead to death.


In the United States, Ritalin is subject to severe criminal penalties for abuse. The penalties for a first trafficking offence (which you would be guilty of even if you just shared one or two pills with a friend) includes up to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

If death or serious injury results from a first offence, the penalty is twenty years to life in prison. If the drug is injected, it becomes a drug offence with even harsher penalties.

“I realise that my interest in and resulting dependence on speed started when I was prescribed Ritalin. At first it was every weekend, then it was every day.

“I began to get hallucinations of birds flying overhead, feelings of people in the same room as me when I was alone, and the beginnings of paranoia. I used up [my friend’s] entire Dexedrine prescription within a week. Then I went back to my Ritalin and went on from there.

“I don’t remember much of twelfth grade. But I do remember overwhelming depression and an inability to understand what exactly was the reason I was doing worse than ever in school. I barely graduated, and made absolutely no college plans.

“At the last minute I enrolled in the local college. I was able to stay clean for about seventeen days before the need for speed overcame all. I attended class for one week, and failed miserably.” —Sam

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