The ADHD drug Ritalin could help Americans kick cocaine, a study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Virginia say animal studies have shown the drug reduces dependence on white powder and could help treat cocaine addiction, though the scientists conceded that results in humans were “more mixed.”
They have now compiled a library of different forms of methylphenidate (MPH), the active ingredient in Ritalin, and are searching for a form that can treat cocaine addiction.
An estimated five million Americans use cocaine each year and some 25,000 die from it annually.
The US cocaine market, plagued by international trafficking and crime, is estimated to be worth more than $34 billion; the researchers say any drug to help combat addiction would be another tool in the country’s arsenal against this illicit trade.
Researchers at the University of Virginia say animal studies have shown Ritalin reduces cocaine dependence, though results are more mixed in humans (stock)
Ritalin is available as a pill 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, increasing levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, which can lead to feelings of euphoria. For ADHD sufferers, this drive helps them focus and avoid impulsive behaviors.
But scientists say that patients who take the drug are less likely to abuse it than those who use cocaine.
typing in Press release published by the American Chemical Society, the scientists said: ‘Although animal studies have shown that (Ritalin) can reduce cocaine dependence, human studies have offered more mixed results.
“Therefore, researchers are developing libraries of (Ritalin types), looking for (one) with greater clinical efficacy.”
Like cocaine, Ritalin is also classified as a Schedule II substance, just like fentanyl and oxycodone, meaning it is considered to have a high potential for abuse.
However, methadone, a drug administered to help treat heroin addiction, is also a Schedule II substance.
This is not the first study to investigate whether MPH can alleviate cocaine addiction. Previous research has been done on mice, rats, and primates, but has produced mixed results.
TO 2012 study A study with rhesus monkeys found that there were no significant differences between primates receiving and non-receiving MPH in terms of how their addiction was alleviated.
A second type of ADHD medication, Adderall, uses a different active ingredient than Ritalin (amphetamine) and works for about four to six hours. However, in recent years it has become a common party drug and people take it to trigger a feeling of euphoria.
Ritalin, which is more popular in Europe, also causes dopamine levels to rise through a separate mechanism. According to scientists, its effects last between three and four hours.
Estimates show that approximately 2 million Americans have a prescription for Ritalin, and about four percent of high school seniors are believed to abuse the drug annually.
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 can help with alcoholism, to treat cocaine addiction, but had mixed results.
In addition, research on modafinil treatment of narcolepsy was also conducted, but the results were also inconsistent.