PQ: Students, Ritalin and Modafinil

Conservative MP, Graham Brady, asks the Department of Health about what assessment the department has made on the misuse of Ritalin and Modafinil as cognitive enhancers, what they’re doing to restrict access, and inform students of the potential side effects.

The Minister answering, Norman Lamb, is on pretty solid ground when talking about the controls around the sale of these drugs – Ritalin is a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, while Modafinil requires a prescription but isn’t controlled under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

He points out the restrictions around advertising Modafinil which apply to UK-based pharmacies, but admits these regulations don’t apply outside the UK, and goes on to say that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have serious concerns about internet sales.

Lamb argues that there are regular warnings issued by the MHRA about buying medicinal drugs over the internet, and a quick look on the MHRA website turned up the a page on buying drugs off the internet and video which was uploaded to YouTube in December last year, since when it’s had 760 or so views.

The video, as you’ll see, takes a very traditional cautionary approach with a fictionalised account of a young adult needing emergency treatment because of his misuse of drugs bought from the internet.  At the end it advises viewers to visit www.RealDanger.co.uk which redirects to a Pfizer branded website, where interestingly there is a link to the same video, but this time on the Pfizer YouTube channel where it has had over 34,000 views.

The Pfizer site also links to a press release about a survey of pharmacists that suggests they think that internet sales of prescription drugs is rising, but doesn’t – as far as I can see – back this up with any data about the prevalence of misuse of medicines, or the number of hospital visits as a result of this.  They do however say that over the last 5 years the MHRA seized more than £34 million worth of medicine supplied illegally.

Of course what isn’t clear is how much of the seized medicines were the ones that caused Mr Brady to ask his question, nor on the prevalence of the misuse of these drugs, or whether the approach that Pfizer and the MHRA are taking is being successful in preventing further misuse.

Returning to the Minister’s response to the question, Mr Lamb, also comments on the role the national curriculum plays in informing younger students about drugs.  He rightly points out that the science curriculum has some broad words about teaching ‘the effects of drugs on behaviour, health and life processes’ and that this can be extended by PSHE teaching.

The prevalence of the misuse of medicines by school age pupils isn’t really measured by the Smoking, Drinking and Drug use survey.  They are able to show that 0.4% of pupils between 11 and 15 years said they took a Tranquilizer in the last year, as you’d expect they found that the proportions saying they’d used went up by age.


I will need to check with Liz Fuller and her colleagues at NatCen that do the survey every year to check whether they ask about other medicines like Ritalin or other cognitive enhancers but certainly if they do the proportion is so small that they get gathered up in the ‘other’ category.