Methylphenidate vs. Ritalin

(C)opyright 1999, Nick Holland

A number of books on ADD report in timid terms that generic Methylphenidate and brand-name Ritalin are not quite as similar as you might expect.  Now, drug manufacturers would love to have you believe that generic drugs are inferior to their brand-name products.  In most cases, this has been scientifically proven false, but in the case of Ritalin and its generic, Methylphenidate, THERE MOST CERTAINLY IS A DIFFERENCE.  I say that with confidence and no timidity!  More than there being a difference, let me say that generic Methylphenidate is NASTY STUFF!

Having heard from a few sources that there was a difference, I chose to ask my doctor, for my first prescription, to write it for the real Ritalin, and for the first refill to write it for the generic.  Now, after hearing the timid notifications of differences, I was expecting I might have to take a higher dose of the generic to get the same effect, but if it was a big enough of a price difference, it might be cheaper to take twice as much generic as Ritalin.  Worth testing, eh?  First of all, any price difference is minimal (and this is from a Pay-For-It-Myself, non-insurance person!).  Secondly, the generic is very nasty stuff.  For me at least, it had no noticeable effect on my ADD.  It also gave me a jittery feeling, and I noticed that when talking to people on the phone, I was talking very rapidly.  A friend of mine who ended up unintentionally conducting the same experiment noticed feelings of nausea and again, general bad stuff.  IF the stuff worked on ADD, IF there was no alternative, generic Methylphenidate might be a respectable medication to use for people who need it badly enough, but the reality is the stuff DOESN'T work and there IS an alternative (Ritalin).  I stuck out my experiment for two weeks before I switched back to the "real" stuff.

BEFORE you attempt to repeat this experiment, keep in mind there are some legal issues with Ritalin...  Your doctor can not prescribe more than a thirty day supply in one writing of a prescription, and there could be problems if you were to receive a thirty day supply of the bad stuff and decide you needed to switch back to the "good" stuff.  As for how *I* resolved that problem, well, rest assured it was in a moral and ethical way, but due to the controlled-substance nature of Ritalin (and the generic!), it was probably illegal, so I will not elaborate on this.

Now, you might assume your doctor knows this.  My doctor claimed to have a lot of ADD patients, and yet he regularly writes "Ritalin" on the prescription form without adding "DAW" (Dispense as Written).  In Michigan, at least, if the doctor does not write DAW on your prescription, you will get the GENERIC (so-called) EQUIVALENT, not the name-brand medication!  So, before your doctor leaves the room, LOOK to verify that you are being prescribed the Real Thing, not the generic, and if that's not what you want, inform your doctor in no uncertain terms that you expect real Ritalin on your prescriptions!

In talking with people who have tried Ritalin themselves or for their kids, I've noticed a disturbing trend:  Almost invariably, people I have talked to who have had bad experiences with Ritalin weren't taking Ritalin, but taking the generic (or had no idea what I was talking about, which means they were taking the generic, at least if they are in my area). So, before believing someone who tells you they had no success or problems with Ritalin, find out what they were taking...

Note: I'm sure there could be multiple manufactures of the "Generic" Methylphenidate, and I'm not sure that my condemnation of the generic form of the medication is fair to all manufacturers.  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be easy to control which manufacturer you get, even if there is a generic manufacturer which is every bit as good (or at least usable!) as Ritalin.

How do you tell?

Look at the pill.  Ritalin is manufactured by the drug company Ciba-Geigy, and the pills are stamped with the letters CIBA.  If you don't see that, you probably don't have official Ritalin.  A Ciba-Geigy info sheet on Ritalin gives the following identification guide:
    5 mg:    Round, Yellow, imprinted CIBA 7
    10 mg:  Round, pale green, scored, imprinted CIBA 3
    20 mg:  Round, pale yellow, scored, imprinted CIBA 34
    SR 20 mg [Sustained-Release]: Round, white, coated, imprinted CIBA 16
On my 10 mg pills, the number is on the opposite side from the CIBA.

Check this even if your doctor DID indicate to Dispense As Written.  Pharmacies can make mistakes, although I've had more experience with them CATCHING doctor's mistakes than making their own.

Now, for the scary part.  A generic drug is supposed to place the same amount of the same active ingredients into the body of the taker.  Obviously, something is wrong here: either the generic isn't delivering the same amount of medication, or at the same rate, or the same active ingredients, OR, the magic of Ritalin isn't in the supposed "active" ingredients but instead, the "inert" ingredients.  Regardless, one way or another, someone screwed up by letting the generics be sold as they are being sold...

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