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Study Strong: How students on campus misuse stimulants

Photo by Teresa Mathew Buy this photo

By Ian Dillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 11, 2013

Editor's note: For the purposes of the article, some student names have been changed or omitted.

“It’s not so much peer pressure as peer acceptance.”

“Because it’s so accepted among a lot of people,” Kinesiology freshman Andrew said. “You don’t see any harm in doing it.”

Within the increasingly competitive college environment, where students are being pushed to achieve socially, academically and professionally, academic “performance enhancers” are being widely abused. Across the nation, students turn to these stimulants in an attempt to gain a mental edge.

Prescribed in various forms like Adderall and Ritalin to treat conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, amphetamines and methylphenidates are the most common ‘study aids’ abused on campuses.

For about $5 per pill — $10 during finals week — students buy these drugs from dorm mates, study partners and even family members.

Like many of his fellow students, Andrew said he often struggles to keep up when he has multiple projects and exams to worry about each week. When these projects start to stack up, Andrew takes Adderall to help him get through a long day in the UGLi.

Despite serious legal consequences for taking Adderall — or any similar medication — without a prescription, Andrew feels the risk is worth it.

“I find so far that it’s extremely beneficial,” Andrew said. “Some people feel like there’s a negative connotation around Adderall just because its not an open, legal drug … If I could only do one drug the rest of my collegiate career, it would most likely be Adderall because I feel that the academic upside to it is so significant that it can only help.”

Since coming to the University he has taken the drug five or six times while studying.

“It’s pretty common during finals season,” Andrew said. “It doesn’t necessarily improve your work, it just makes you focus more. It doesn’t make you smarter, you can just get your work done faster.”

When he feels the need to “really get work done,” he buys Adderall from a friend who is prescribed the drug for ADHD. It has a positive effect on his work, making him act “normally” but with high productivity levels.

“It’s impossible to detect,” he said. “If I’m sitting next to you in the library and we’re both doing work, but I’m doing my work a little bit faster and a little less distracted, nobody will be able to notice.”

Andrew said he didn’t feel pressured into taking Adderall, but the prevalence of the drug on campus dissuaded his worries.

“It’s not like people are pressuring you to do it, you just don’t see any downside to doing it,” he said.

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“I think it is a dangerous problem.”

Robert Ernst, medical director at University Health Services said UHS prescribes stimulant medications to help students with ADHD and Attention Deficit Disorder. For these students, stimulants are extremely beneficial, because they increase alertness, focus and energy.

However, given the well-known potential for abuse — especially on college campuses — UHS does not diagnose students with ADHD or ADD. Instead, they rely on the diagnoses and treatment plans developed by outside physicians. Students can only obtain a prescription from UHS with a confirmed diagnosis from their own physician and a history of successful treatment with stimulants.

While some physicians with more experience feel comfortable diagnosing ADHD with only a patient history, others rely on surveys or questionnaires developed to help physicians diagnose the disease.

“Increasingly, (physicians) are believing that students can give the right answers on a survey to make it sound like ADHD,” Ernst said. “It was because of situations like that we decided we didn’t feel comfortable making that diagnosis based upon this survey.”

For students diagnosed outside the University, Ernst said UHS still takes precautions when distributing these medications.

“This is as controversial as it gets on college campuses, and many colleges’ health services have a ‘just say no’ approach to this,” Ernst said. “We don’t look at it as our role to make the diagnosis and initiate treatment, but welcome the opportunity to establish continuity relationships with students who have an established diagnosis and are already stable on a regiment.”

Even for students who demonstrate a legitimate need for medication, a monthly prescription is required to obtain more pills.

Stimulants are classified as Schedule II drugs in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration heavily regulates these drugs based on their potential for abuse.

“Any time you have a Schedule II controlled substance, you are going to have a lot of (legal precautions),” Gwedolyn Chivers, director of the UHS Pharmacy, said.


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