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Controversial stimulant used to treat drug addicts

Ritalin and cocaine affect similar areas of the brain

(Keystone)

Ritalin, a stimulant more commonly associated with hyperactive children, is to be used for the first time to treat drug addicts in a trial in Switzerland.

Sixty heroin and cocaine users from Basel and Bern will be given the drug over a three-month period.

Doctors say that the group, who are already registered on heroin withdrawal programmes, have proved a headache to treat because of their joint use of cocaine (a stimulant) and heroin (an analgesic).

Christopher Bürki from Bern’s Koda heroin prescription clinic told swissinfo that while usual treatments like methadone, heroin prescription and detoxification work for heroin addicts, they often don’t help people addicted to cocaine.

“If we talk about street drug use, we don’t see anyone who just consumes heroin anymore,” he explained. “The normal pattern today is the consumption of heroin and cocaine in the form of a cocktail.”

“Some studies have been done with Ritalin for cocaine addiction, but it has never been done in this framework with patients in heroin-assisted treatment,” he added.

Ritalin

Ritalin is best known for being used to treat children suffering from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

ADHD sufferers have trouble paying attention, staying still and controlling their impulses, which leads to difficulties at school and at home.

Critics of Ritalin prescription claim the drug can cause serious side effects in some children, leaving them robotic, lethargic, depressed, or withdrawn.

However, Bürki believes the drug could help addicts. “Cocaine and Ritalin are both stimulants and although they don’t work in the same way, they function in similar regions of the brain.”

If Ritalin proves effective, organisers of the pilot project aim to move to a second phase of treatment, including group therapy.

Bürki admitted that patients could suffer side effects, but he warned that no medication was completely free of side effects.

“Cocaine addiction is serious and if you weigh the possible side effects of Ritalin and cocaine, then there is no question that Ritalin would win if it’s an effective treatment.”

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin and Faryal Mirza

In brief

Ritalin is to be given to addicts who use both heroin and cocaine in a pioneering trial in Switzerland.

Experts say traditional treatments are not effective in treating people addicted to both drugs.

Ritalin and cocaine are both stimulants and affect similar areas of the brain.

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