The ADHD drug Ritalin could help to wean Americans off cocaine, a study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Virginia say animal studies have shown the drug triggers reduced dependence on the white powder and could help treat a cocaine addiction, although scientists admitted 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 could treat cocaine addiction.
About 5million Americans are estimated to use cocaine every year, with about 25,000 dying from it annually.
The US cocaine market, riddled with international trafficking and crime, is estimated to be worth more than $34billion — with researchers saying 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 triggers reduced dependence on cocaine, although results are more mixed in humans (stock)
Ritalin is available as a pill for children and adults suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactive-disorder (ADHD) and can only be obtained with a prescription.
It works in a similar way to cocaine, boosting 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 on the drug are less likely to abuse it compared to if they were taking cocaine.
Writing in a press release published by the American Chemical Society, the scientists said: ‘Although studies in animals have shown that [Ritalin] can reduce cocaine dependence, studies in humans have offered more mixed results.
‘Thus, researchers are developing libraries of [types of Ritalin], searching for [one] with improved clinical efficacy.’
Like cocaine, Ritalin is also classified as a Schedule II substance — as is 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 if MPH can ease cocaine addiction. Previous research has been conducted in mice, rats and primates, but has produced mixed results.
A 2012 study involving rhesus monkeys found there was no significant difference between primates who were and were not receiving MPH in terms of how their addiction eased.
A second type of ADHD drug, Adderall, uses a different active ingredient from Ritalin— amphetamines — and acts for about four to six hours. In recent years, however, it has become a common party drug with people using it to trigger a sense of euphoria.
Ritalin, which is more popular in Europe, also triggers a rise in dopamine levels using a separate mechanism. Its effects last for about three to four hours, scientists say.
Estimates show approximately 2million Americans have a prescription for Ritalin, with about four percent of high school seniors thought to abuse the drug annually.
While the potential for Ritalin 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 using disulfiram — which can help with alcoholism — to treat cocaine addiction, but these yielded mixed results.
Additionally, research was also conducted into the narcolepsy treatment modafinil but results were also inconsistent.