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New Hampshire No. 1 nationally in Ritalin purchases

New Hampshire residents buy more Ritalin, the drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, than people in any other state, according to a published report.

All the New England states use large amounts of Ritalin and its generic equivalents per capita, a fact that doctors attribute to the region's affluence and good medical care, The Boston Globe reported Tuesday.

Methylphenidate, which is sold in many forms but best known by the brand name Ritalin, became widely used about 15 years ago. Critics say the drug is overprescribed as a performance enhancer, while supporters say it should be made more available to children to treat ADHD.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, which measures how much methylphenidate per capita is shipped into each state, found that in 2000, New Hampshire led the country, closely followed by Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine, all among the 10 top-selling states in the nation.

Gene Harkless, director of the family nurse practitioner program at the University of New Hampshire, attributed the high use of Ritalin in New England to the region's higher income level and the value its residents place on education.

Others attribute it to New Englanders' access to good medical care. New  England researchers have produced a lot of the groundbreaking research on ADHD in recent decades, said Russell Barkley, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.

Combine that with the high concentration of physicians per capita and more children are likely to be prescribed medication for attention disorders, said Allen Mendell, a child psychiatrist in Nashua.

Methylphenidate is a mild central nervous system stimulant that, according to the DEA, "produces pharmacological effects similar to those of cocaine or amphetamine."

Recent research suggests it produces a calming effect in children with ADHD.

It is not addictive when taken orally in treatment doses, according to a study from Brookhaven National Laboratory. 

But some are concerned about its use.

The DEA's reported consumption rates for Vermont so alarmed several lawmakers that earlier this year they drafted a bill aiming to suppress its use, only to be swamped with testimonials from families who said the drug had been an enormous boon. Connecticut has already passed a similar law.