Pupils dealing Ritalin
High school pupils are selling Ritalin, prescribed to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, to classmates who snort it to get high.
Recently, the Grade 11 leaders of a drug ring operating at a Johannesburg school were expelled after being caught teaching younger boys to fake the disorder to obtain pills to meet the growing demand.
Five days ago, a private security firm, Enforce Security Service, sent out an alert to parents that pupils, including those at a top Durban school, were selling Ritalin to classmates.
The Anti-Drug Alliance of SA has dealt with cases of Ritalin abuse at at least four Johannesburg schools in the past two months.
A Durban mother, who cannot be named to protect the identity of her son, said yesterday she was in "uncharted territory".
"I am told that my son sells Ritalin and shows his friends how to use it. No parent wants to hear that the pill that is supposed to make his life better is turning him into a drug dealer and addict," she said.
The schedule-six stimulant was prescribed to her 15-year-old son four years ago.
"Perhaps I have been careless by not monitoring his usage but no one expects this," she said.
A few days ago the frantic mother was informed that her son was a Ritalin supplier at his school.
"My friend's children told her. When she told me, I confronted my son, but he won't respond.
"I did not notice any changes in his behaviour to suggest that he wasn't taking his medication. I don't know if he got another prescription or where he is getting the Ritalin to sell.
"I would fully believe in his innocence if he at least gave me an explanation. I am his mother. I can see guilt."
The mother contacted an anti-drug group to counsel her son but she fears he will be caught dealing by his school and expelled.
Snorting Ritalin to get high was revealed as a common practice by university students about two years ago. Though schools in the US admit to battling to stop pupils selling it, its abuse in South African schools is undocumented.
But the founder of the Anti-Drug Alliance of SA, Quintin van Kerken, says it is very common.
"We hear about this a lot. There have been numerous cases recently that have come to our attention." The cases were at schools in Johannesburg's northern suburbs.
"Often it's at private schools, where there is a lot more affluence and money, and when the children are found out or caught, steps are taken internally and it doesn't get as far as the authorities," he said.
Van Kerken said that with a prescription being able only to "go so far", more children are recruited to get pills.
A pill can cost between R10 and R100 at school and, according to Van Kerken, when snorted increases alertness and provides a sense of pleasure.
An investigator for Enforce Security Service, Anthony Feuilherade, said medical sources had told him that a schoolboy was recently rushed to Umhlanga Hospital, north of Durban, with complications from snorting the drug.
The hospital would not comment, citing patient confidentiality.
Dr Das Pillay, a Durban paediatrician with a special interest in ADHD, said Ritalin stimulates the reflectors in the brain to allow the release of dopamine.
He said Ritalin was overprescribed because professionals who were not qualified to make a diagnosis of ADHD were pressured by parents, teachers or children into prescribing it.
"General practitioners are allowed to prescribe Ritalin and, unfortunately, without the proper history and input from teachers and parents, doctors do prescribe Ritalin. If a child comes home and says to their parents that he is not concentrating in school and Harry and Tommy are taking a medication and are doing better, parents can be persuaded that they are helping their children," he said.
The president of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA, Basil Manuel, has often gone on record to express his concern at how "easy it is to place a child on Ritalin".
He said he was not aware of Ritalin trade in schools but he "obviously heard that Ritalin was snorted to get a high".
"I doubt that it would be as common in public schools because economics create accessibility," he said.
The spokesman for the Department of Basic Education, Elijah Mhlanga, said the abuse of Ritalin by pupils had not been brought to its attention.