Prescription stimulant abuse a common practice among college students

The New Study Buddy

By KBJR News 1

May 18, 2012 Updated May 18, 2012 at 11:58 AM CST

College students are under constant pressure. With a sour economy, many are balancing school, work, and family unlike ever before. Plus, the job market they face once graduating is not only competitive, but depressing.

It's these realities that have many fighting to get ahead, and more often, taking illegal measures to do so.

"It just gives you the drive to push through and finish an assignment," says one college student we spoke with.

Adderall, Ritalin, Dexadrine, Concerta and the like: Prescription stimulants used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder are increasingly being used by college and high school students--without a prescription-- to help them study.

"Well over half--probably 80% of the people I know--use it regularly," says a Duluth college student who preferred to remain anonymous due to the illegal nature of these practices.

Dr. Rebecca DeSouza of the UMD Communication Department is currently conducting research concerning prescription stimulant use among college students.

With the help of research assistants, she did in-depth interviews with 40 UMD students. What she found was exactly what we heard from college students across the Northland: using Adderall or similar medications as a study aid is extremely common.

"You know, it starts out with 'I'm really stressed out, I have a big paper due' and somebody else will say, 'well why don't you try this'," says Dr. Rebecca DeSouza.

In her research of illicit prescription stimulant use, among students at UMD, DeSouza found that these ADD treatment medications are not only easy to get, but widely looked at as an acceptable study aid.

"For the most part, they know that it's happening and it's quite normative. [They say] everybody is doing it."

The UMD student says it's so common, most people think nothing of it.

"It would just be like any other thing: I just had a redbull, I just had an Adderall," says the student.

This UMD science major takes it three to four times a month during the school year. Purely for the purpose of studying.

When asked about his grades, he says they vary. "A's", "B's", and "C's" can all be found on his report card of challenging classes. He says his grades aren't any better by taking Adderall, but it allows him to get stuff done in a timely fashion.

"I don't feel like it makes me smarter, it just allows me to sit down and do it at one time versus getting distracted and procrastinating."

The 2011 American College Health Association Survey found that about ten percent of some 600 UMD students surveyed had used the drug without a prescription. A growing trend the University is trying to control.

"If we agree to prescribe a medication for them, we put them under a controlled substance contract. Which means they must get their medication only from us, they can be refilled only at the times that they are refillable, and that they agree to be drug tested," says the Director of Health Services at UMD.

The University of Minnesota also has strict rules about testing for Attention Deficit Disorder.

Although there are no official medical requirements for diagnosis, the University health system requires a thorough evaluation before prescribing the drugs.

Accurate testing is important, says Dr. Paul Marshall of the Hennepin County Medical Center.

A study he did, of more than 250 patients over a five year period, found that 22% were faking or exaggerating cognitive deficits in order to get ADD treatment medications, and special classroom accommodations.

70% of those patients studied were college students.

"If they had ADHD, they were exaggerating to make sure they got the diagnosis, or if they didn't think they had ADHD, they were trying to present as if they had ADHD in order to get the prescription," says Dr. Marshall.

A prescription that can easily be sold to classmates.

"If you have a prescription of even Ritalin, it may be a $30 value, but it's street value is somewhere near $300"

This student says he generally gets it free from a friend with a prescription, and obtaining the drug at any time is so easy, you can have a pill in your hand within 20 minutes.

But there are risks in taking these psycho-stimulants, whether you are prescribed them or not. Headaches, reduced appetite, irritability and trouble sleeping top the list.

Dr. Marshall says there has been no concrete research done thus far to prove any dangerous side affects associated with properly prescribed psycho-stimulants.

"Certainly if you take more than the normally prescribed doses, you certainly could have some adverse consequences but that would be really rare," says Dr. Marshall.

Rare, but enough to have Universities and health officials across the country concerned.

Courtney Godfrey
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