It’s a situation in which many students have found themselves: The day before an exam or paper is due, and they haven’t started studying. Many students The Daily interviewed said they can often feel hopeless. At the last minute, when there seems to be no other option, these students illegally find and consume Adderall, a stimulant pill that gives them more, take away the need to eat or sleep, and probably costs around $5.
Of the over 1,300 respondents to a survey released by The Michigan Daily, 25 percent said they had used central nervous stimulants such as Adderall to complete schoolwork or to take an exam. However, only 8.95 percent of respondents said they were prescribed Adderall by a physician or psychiatrist. Of many of the others interviewed acquired the Adderall by buying it from another student on campus. This was backed by the 37 percent of students who said they were prescribed Adderall and given or sold the drug to another student.
Adderall is an amphetamine-derived pill, and when prescribed it can be extremely efficacious for people who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It improves focus and wakefulness, and gives these people the ability to focus on things they wouldn’t be able to focus on otherwise. For some who are prescribed, they can’t go through the day normally without taking Adderall.
Engineering junior Ben Reeves has had a prescription since fifth grade, and takes 60 mg of Adderall XR extended release every morning. He said it’s hard to remember what things were like when he didn’t take Adderall. From what he can remember, he was extremely lethargic, unmotivated and quite hungry.
“When I am on it, I can focus better on things. I can keep my attention on certain things that aren’t immediately interesting, like homework or assignments, doing laundry, any sort of adult things,” Reeves said.
“This will make me better”
As an Engineering student and an computer science student, Reeves said he sees the stress could prompt people without prescriptions to take Adderall, but said he hasn’t met anyone who has done so nor has he ever considered selling his own prescription.
However, other students have very opposite experiences. One LSA senior prescribed Adderall, who asked to remain anonymous, said people ask to buy his Adderall all the time.
“Whenever anybody has an assignment to do, they’ll ask for some,” he said. “It’s literally for anything, all the time.”
And when they ask, he sells. He said doesn’t use his full dosage and he needs the money, so while he doesn’t enjoy selling and does not consider himself a “huge Addy dealer,” he’s willing to take money for pills he doesn’t plan on taking. It started in high school, but he said back then, he was just giving it out.
“In high school, I didn’t really profit from it,” he said. “I wasn’t selling it really, I just had a ton of these pills that everybody was down to take, so I just would give them out because I had a ton extra."
Others agreed their own increase in usage started in high school when people were anxious about standardized tests and with pressures of getting into the college of their choice. One University student who said she occasionally took Adderall without being prescribed said that she first started taking it while studying for the ACT.
“I really wanted to go here, and I thought ‘this will make me better,’ and I had access to it, so I just took it,” she said.
Students who weren’t prescribed Adderall described similar experiences of taking the drug to those who were prescribed: There was a general feeling of heightened focus and productivity, as well as the ability to stay up later than usual. Based on interviews, another common thread among the students who bought or sold Adderall was they didn’t feel what they were doing was illegal.
One student said she felt that compared to other prescription drugs such as Xanax or Prozac, taking Adderall non-medically wasn’t as bad. Her reasoning was based on overprescribing.
“I never really thought about it as being illegal to be honest because I feel like a lot of people who don’t have ADD are prescribed Adderall and I don’t think it's like taking a Prozac or something that is so mentally altering,” she said. “I don’t think of it as, ‘Oh, this is like a drug.’ Things like Xanax are very addictive, and I feel like people that are prescribed them usually really need them, so I just feel like anti-depressants and stuff like that are a lot more dangerous to use if you don’t actually need them.”
Another student who sells Adderall said he agreed and used a similar argument to back up his claim that those who aren’t prescribed Adderall should be able to take it.
“I think it’s fine I guess,” he said when asked about people using Adderall non-medically to study. “I don’t know. I mean I’ve used it for that myself, I don’t know that I have any condition that actually warrants a prescription for it, but since doctors overprescribe it so much, my doctor back at home was just like, ‘Hey, do you have trouble focusing?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and he was like, ‘Ok, 20 mg of Adderall.’ ”
Is Adderall really less risky?
While overprescription may be an issue, experts say the idea that Adderall is less severe than drugs like Xanax is a misconception.
Adderall has been classified a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the DEA’s website, Schedule II drugs are “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Other Schedule II drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine and oxycodone, while drugs such as Xanax are Schedule IV, meaning that they have a low risk for abuse and a low risk for dependence.
Students who sold Adderall seemed to recognize there were health risks associated with taking Adderall non-medically but in general did not seem too concerned with the legal risks.
“I don’t feel like I had to be extremely careful about it,” one student said. “I really only sold to people that I knew personally, so I knew that they weren’t going to snitch or whatever. But yeah, it was more casual.”
Another student said he was more concerned about it in high school, but at the University he never really worries.
“I never really worry here,” he said. “I think in high school it sketched me out a little more, because it’s not something I wanted to do in school.”
Carol Boyd, the director of the Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health in the School of Nursing, was confused as to why students felt there were low risks when selling Adderall.
“Well it’s a felony, so I don’t know why they think that,” Boyd said. “They’re delivering Schedule II drugs, it’s just like delivering heroin or morphine or Oxycodone. It’s exactly the same as somebody who is selling Oxycodone on the street. Exactly.”
Boyd, who has been at the University for 31 years, has had a longstanding interest in research of substance abuse. She picked up that the overprescription issue was probably part of this unwarranted nonchalance in regard to Adderall, which was in line with what the students themselves were saying.
“It’s ubiquitous, and physicians prescribe it, and prescriptions have gone up dramatically over the last years, and I believe that just like with oxy, it creates this social narrative that somehow it is safe,” Boyd said. “So in the last 10 years, Adderall use has nearly doubled. The interesting thing to me is that Xanax is a Schedule IV, while Adderall is a Schedule II. But it’s because they think that everybody uses it, and every single one of them have friends that have been prescribed Adderall for at least 15 years, that they think it is okay.”
Aside from the legal risks, Boyd outlined three major health risks that can occur when people take Adderall non-medically: addiction, psychosis and death.
“They could have an underlying cardiovascular problem, and Adderall – like all amphetamines – has a black box on it from the FDA, because a physician should, before prescribing, do a cardiac workup on the patient,” Boyd said. “If somebody has that underlying cardiac arrhythmia, it can throw them into a ventricular techocardi tachycardia and cause death.”
While this risk is particular to those who suffer with cardiovascular issues, Boyd said the other two could happen to anyone.
“If you use too much of any amphetamine, you can have an amphetamine-induced psychosis,” he said. “The third is addiction…it is a Schedule II drug because it has some of the most addictive potential. If you go on the web and look up drug treatment facilities, you’ll find there are ones that are talking about treating people addicted to Adderall.”
Boyd listed other side effects, some that students mentioned experiencing themselves. One student who was prescribed Adderall but wasn’t sure if he really needed it said that he had to stop taking it because of the adverse side effects it was causing.
“At first it did a lot more,” he said. “It made me very productive and sort of manic, very talkative, but eventually it just got to the point where if I took it at any acute dose, it would just kind of cause chest discomfort and keep me from sleeping, and I couldn’t get anything done because the chest pain would make me panic. I don’t really use it for studying anymore because it makes me freak out, so I can’t study when I’m on it.”
Another student who wasn’t prescribed Adderall said that she stopped taking it after freshman year for similar reasons.
“The side effects to me were just too much. I would feel super dizzy from not eating and not having an appetite, and something didn’t sit with me super well about using something I wasn’t prescribed,” she said. “I know it does things to your brain, and I know there are bad side effects, and I never felt like it was doing enough to make those things worth it.”
Boyd said though Adderall could work on anyone, the supposition that it makes you get better grades is false.
“Yes, it does help with attention,” Boyd said. “Does it help you get better grades? No. And the studies are robust enough to show that people who use Adderall tend to have somewhat lower grades.”
So why do students take it? One student felt students at the University use Adderall to keep up with a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle.
“I think that here people want a balance between having fun and studying so much that they’ll do anything to focus extra while they can. They’ll do anything to get more done so that they can participate in all parts of school,” she said. “I think the people that take it who aren’t prescribed it are usually people that live a pretty lively social life.”
Another student who sells Adderall said it goes along with the trend at the University of having all your work due at one time and then weeks where you have nothing to do.
“I don’t think it’s a good habit to get into, especially if you don’t have ADHD, but I’d say in a college environment where the work level goes from two weeks of a ton of shit you’ve got to do to two weeks where you’ve got nothing at all, the way kids I’m around study, I’d say anyone could benefit from it in the short term,” he said.
Another student, who has never done Adderall, thinks the motivation to do it comes from some students’ lack of ability to balance the workload at the University.
“Some people are definitely unaware of the health risks, but even if they are, they believe that the short-term gain is worth at least the potential health risks of using Adderall,” he said. “They believe that the tradeoff for improving their grade, even though it’s not even guaranteed that they will get a better grade, is worth those potential health risks.”
Some students also talked about motivations for buying Adderall other than studying, such as snorting it before going out or suppressing appetites.
“One girl bought it from me one time and she was like, ‘Yeah, spring break is coming up, so you know…’ but it was just like woah, that's not something that ever crossed my mind as a reason I would take it,” one student said.
Regardless of motivation, many agreed the drug isn’t hard to find, citing what some consider an epidemic.
“I feel like you could find it in literally 10 minutes,” one student said.