Parents dope kids up on speed before exams

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Parents in Ho Chi Minh City are feeding their kids amphetamines before exams in a bid to raise their grades.

Nguyen Thi Kim Huyen, who works at a drugstore on Hai Ba Trung Street, said drug companies were advertising that their Amphetamines "strengthen the brain."

She said the pills were selling like hot cakes as exam season rolls around. And it's not stress-crazed kids that are the best customers it's their parents that are doing the buying.

A 12th-grader was checked in to HCMC Mental Hospital last week after using Amphetamine to stay awake studying for three days straight, local newswire VnExpress reported April 19.

He had stopped eating and eventually collapsed before being admitted to the hospital.

"Amphetamine is an addictive drug for the brain that is banned [for over-the-counter sale]," Pham Van Tru, deputy director of the hospital, was quoted by the Cong an nhan dan [People's Police] newspaper as saying on April 18.

Amphetamine can only be used under doctor's prescription.

Studies have found that 66 percent of users of Amphetamine suffered depression and behavioral disorder and an overdose of the drug can cause heart failure and death.

Tru said he was surprised to learn that some parents were forcing their children to take Ritalin before exams.

"[Ritalin] is only used with people who have concentration and behavioral disorders, and it is administered very carefully.

"It is a form of Methamphetamine, a kind of synthetic addictive drug that severely damages the central neural system and can lead to premature death," he said.

Amphetamines are commonly prescribed by psychologists in the US to help kids who are having trouble in school.

Some parents are also looking for Galantamine, which is advertised as "improving consciousness," and is often prescribed to elderly patients with slight Alzheimers or memory problems. But doctors said it cannot better the brain or memory.

Ginkgo Biloba, sold as Takan, Tanakan or Superkan at VND1,500- 4,000 (US 8-21 cents) a tablet, is the most popular "brain-tonic" these days.

But an experiment by US doctors on 3,069 people between 72-96 years of age in an average of 6.1 years showed that the medicine changed nothing in their consciousness and memory.

Doctors said there's no magic drug that can improve brain functions.

Tru said medical products advertised as "brain-strengthening" medicines are meant for the elderly who are senile or suffer from depression. Such medicines can cause different side effects such as digestive disorders, headaches and skin allergies, he added.

A mother identified only as L.C. told the Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper that her son was lively when he first started taking some "brain tablets" but he soon became lethargic and had diarrhea.

The boy who was hospitalized said he felt lively immediately after taking the medicine. "But by the third day, I became irritable, my heart beat irregularly and I didn't remember what I learned the day before."

Every exam season, the emergency room at HCMC Mental Hospital receives students who took uppers to help them study.

Huynh Van Son, a psychology lecturer at the HCMC University of Education, said students are often anxious when they begin to study for exams. Many procrastinate and wait until the last minute.

Familial pressure and self-pressure can worsen the tension, Son said.

Le Thi Kim Qui, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Center, said students should go to bed before 11 p.m. and do exercises in the morning.

Qui agreed with Son and said that students quickly forget what they learn because they study under pressure and worry.

Figures from the HCMC Mental Hospital showed that 300-400 children, most of them junior high and high school students, came to the hospital for mental check-ups every week.

The number of children admitted to the hospital has increased 20-30 percent every year since 2003, according to statistics kept by the hospital.

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