ADHD drug Ritalin could help wean Americans off cocaine, study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Virginia say animal studies have shown the drug triggers a reduction in addiction to white powder and could help treat cocaine addiction, although the scientists admitted the findings in humans were “more conflicting”.
They have now compiled a library of different forms of methylphenidate (MPH), the active ingredient in Ritalin, and are looking for a form that can treat cocaine addiction.
An estimated 5 million Americans use cocaine each year, and about 25,000 die from it each year.
The US cocaine market, riddled with international trafficking and crime, is estimated to be worth more than $34 billion, and researchers say any drug to help fight addiction would be another tool in the country’s arsenal against this illicit trade.
University of Virginia researchers say animal studies have shown Ritalin triggers a reduction in cocaine addiction, although results are more mixed in humans (stock)
Ritalin is available in pill form for children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and can only be obtained with a prescription.
It works in a similar way to cocaine by increasing levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, which can lead to feelings of euphoria. For ADHD sufferers, this boost helps them focus and avoid impulsive behaviors.
But scientists say patients who take the drug are less likely to abuse it than when they took cocaine.
In a press release published by the American Chemical Society, the scientists said: ‘Although animal studies have shown it [Ritalin] may reduce cocaine addiction, studies in humans have offered more mixed results.
‘Therefore, researchers are developing libraries of [types of Ritalin]looking for [one] with improved clinical efficacy.”
Like cocaine, Ritalin is also classified as a Schedule II substance as are fentanyl and oxycodone, meaning it is considered to have a high potential for abuse.
However, methadone, a drug given to help treat heroin addiction, is also a Schedule II substance.
This isn’t the first study to investigate whether MPH can alleviate cocaine addiction. Previous research has been done in mice, rats and primates, but has yielded conflicting results.
A 2012 study involving rhesus monkeys found that there was no significant difference between primates receiving and not receiving MPH in terms of how their addiction eased.
A second type of ADHD medication, Adderall, uses a different active ingredient than the amphetamines in Ritalin and works for about 4 to 6 hours. In recent years, however, it has become a common drug and people use it to trigger a sense of euphoria.
Ritalin, more popular in Europe, also triggers an increase in dopamine levels using a separate mechanism. Its effects last about three to four hours, scientists say.
Estimates show that about 2 million Americans have a prescription for Ritalin, with about 4 percent of high school students believed to abuse the drug each year.
While Ritalin’s potential to combat cocaine addiction is a more recent development, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tried to find drugs to treat this condition in the past.
In the early 2000s, several studies investigated the use of disulfiram which may help with alcoholism to treat cocaine addiction, but these have yielded mixed results.
In addition, modafinil treatment for narcolepsy has also been researched, but the results have also been inconsistent.
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