Lawmaker seeks Ritalin recommendation ban

By Mary Ellen Flannery, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 11, 2002

TALLAHASSEE -- Too many teachers or school administrators try to subdue unruly students with Ritalin or other psychiatric drugs because it makes them easier to manage, Florida lawmakers said Friday.

But no school employee, except medical staff, should even recommend those kinds of drugs, said Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, who is trying to outlaw the practice in Florida.

Last week, Murman wrote a bill amendment requiring all Florida school boards to forbid their instructional personnel from recommending "psychotropic drugs." It was passed by the Senate and will be taken up by the House on Monday.

In Palm Beach County, it shouldn't be necessary, said Russ Feldman, director of exceptional student education. "Our people aren't allowed to do that -- no teacher should ever make a medical recommendation," he said Friday. The proposed legislation is "smart and obvious," he added.

Teachers do spend a lot of time with their students and they might be the first to notice an unusual behavior, but there are good and bad ways of dealing with it, Feldman noted. A good way might be to suggest a doctor's visit to the parent, he said, which would be allowed under the proposed law.

But, if a student needs Ritalin and doesn't take it, it's pretty clear why teachers might wish he did.

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder often can't pay attention in a classroom -- they might fidget, get up from their seats or blurt out answers. They avoid tasks that require "sustained mental effort," according to the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

With medicine, the symptoms can be eased. But some child advocates worry that those drugs, including Dexedrine, Adderall and Concerta, are overprescribed out of convenience.

In Palm Beach County schools last year, more than 500 students a day received doses of Ritalin in school nurses' offices, records show. It is the single most-prescribed drug in the schools -- 54 percent of all medications administered were Ritalin.

The proposed bill is modeled after a year-old law in Connecticut, the first state to forbid school employees from making drug recommendations. Since then, lawmakers in Arizona and Illinois have followed their example.

"Apparently there's a problem with school personnel calling up parents and saying, 'Hey, your kids need Ritalin to calm down,' " said Republican Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, who agreed to add Murman's amendment to his OxyContin bill. Palm Beach County school board member Debra Robinson, a physician, agreed it was a good idea. "I think the extent of a nonmedical person's evaluation should be, 'I suspect this child needs additional services, please have them evaluated,' " Robinson said.



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