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Illicit use of Adderall plagues college campuses

Photo: Kaydee Miller

Prescription drugs such as Adderall are often abused as study tools - often without regard for the dangers they pose.

By Dakota Miller, Staff Writer

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Throughout teens’ lives, parents, teachers and the media warn them of the danger of illicit drugs. But while many realize that illicit drugs are a problem, the dangers of prescription drugs are often overlooked.

In the past few years, Adderall, a prescription medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has been gaining popularity on college campuses – though this popularity is for the abuse of the drug. It is known to some as “college crack,” the “cognitive steroid” or simply as “Addy.” It has been used by those without ADHD as a way to focus in class, as a sort of mental steroid and simply as a way to get high. 

What is Adderall?

Adderall is commonly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, which causes the sufferer to fall asleep without warning. Adderall is a stimulant that causes the central nervous system to speed up. This makes the user’s surroundings appear to move slower, an effect that attracts students looking for a way to focus.

Beth Duvall, a doctor at Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in Centerville, has experience with prescribing medicine for attention-deficit problems. “I do prescribe Adderall, mostly to school-age children for ADD or ADHD. Typically, it requires meeting a set of criteria to make the diagnosis and close follow-ups to assure proper results and no side effects,” she said.

Students without attention disorders, however, often don’t realize that taking the drug could have consequences. The FDA classifies Adderall as a habit-forming drug, meaning it can easily cause an addiction. Furthermore, WebMD says that misuse or abuse of amphetamines such as Adderall may result in serious or possibly fatal heart and blood pressure problems.

Pinpointing the abuse

Duvall believes drug abuse in general starts in the doctor’s office, with both patient and doctor often thinking about a prescription at the end of their visit. “If you ask me, prescription drugs are a bit over-prescribed, but I feel both parties of patient and physician are at fault,” she said. “Patients have come to expect a prescription if they are seeing the doctor, and the doctors often prescribe based on these expectations. I mean, who really wants to spend $20 just to be told that it’s just a cold and to keep doing what they’re doing?”

Duvall also knows some users who seek out these medications. “Doctors try to do the right thing and try not to suspect a patient of being an abuser or seller of drugs,” she said. “I know of some ER doctors who are very keen on looking out for repeat visitors who are looking for pain meds, and there has been a statewide database established to track them to help cut down on the abuse.”

But inevitably, many get away with abuse. Determining how many students abuse Adderall and similar drugs is next to impossible. “It’s hard to say just how much abuse is happening,” said Fairmont High School Nurse Kathy Thomas. “It’s definitely out there, though. College students continue to abuse Adderall as a hangover cure or study aid.”

Duvall hopes this abuse isn’t as prominent as people think. “It probably happens more than I think it does,” she said. “I’m more of an idealist than a realist at times, but I certainly hope that my patients are doing the right thing and not abusing or selling drugs.”

Prescription drug abuse plagues some college campuses, but Thomas believes that Fairmont has done a good job of keeping it to a minimum through the help of the local police and the drug dog searches. “It does happen occasionally here, but the administration does a good job in not letting it happen. We do a pretty good job here.”

Other risky behavior

Several recent studies show that students who abuse Adderall appear to be the type of people who engage in other risky behavior.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines nonmedical use of a drug as taking it without a prescription, specifically for the effect that the drug creates. A SAMHSA study showed that full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 who abused Adderall were incredibly more likely to use marijuana as compared to non-users or those who used Adderall with a prescription, a difference of 79.9 percent to 27.2 percent.

The study also showed that nearly 90 percent of students who recently used Adderall nonmedically had engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and more than half used alcohol heavily and regularly. Furthermore, these students were eight times more likely to use cocaine than those who didn’t use Adderall (28.9 vs. 3.6 percent), eight times more likely to use prescription tranquilizers nonmedically (24.5 vs. 3 percent), and five times more likely to abuse prescription painkillers (44.9 vs. 8.7 percent).

Alarmingly, another recent study shows the abuse of prescription drugs is not limited to college students but begins as early as the middle school years. The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that “among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana.” Proving that the danger lies not just in illegal highs, the study also found that almost all of the poisoning deaths from 1999-2004 were caused by these types of drugs as the death toll from those drugs rose from 12,186 in 1999 to 20,950 in 2004.

Duvall believes she knows why people who would never think of taking illicit drugs sometimes end up abusing prescription drugs. “I think that there’s perhaps a perceived ‘safety’ in prescription drugs, as they’re more pure and unaltered versus a street drug that may be contaminated or ‘cut’ with something,” she said. “However, both carry the same risk of overdose or side effects that can be life threatening, like heart attacks with Adderall or Ritalin.”

Duvall has had patients with issues with drugs. She often hears first-hand accounts of abuse of alcohol, illegal drugs such as heroin, or even legal medications such as Xanax or pain medications. “It’s often the people I never would have expected to have an addiction,” she said.

Avoiding the addiction trap — and getting free

Duvall warns against the danger of just quitting “cold turkey,” however. “Addictions are often very serious, and going ‘cold turkey’ can be fatal in some cases,” she said. “What’s unfortunate is treatment is often not readily available or not covered by private insurance.”

Fairmont sophomore Shannon Brown takes prescription medications for pain from an old leg injury. “I only take about one a day,” she said. “But about twice a year or so, I’ll take more than that for injuries or something.”

Being familiar with these medications and their possible misuse, Brown makes sure she takes steps to avoid getting addicted. “It’s mostly the knowledge that they’re not there to be abused that helps,” she said. “When I can take the pain without using pills, I just stop taking them, even if I have half of the prescription left. I just take them back to the pharmacy to be recycled.”

Brown also has experienced the pressure to give out these medications to others.

“Usually, it’s just kind of sarcastic, something like, ‘Oh, hey, you’re taking Vicodin. Want to share?’” she said. But Brown doesn’t want to get her friends or herself in trouble, since the use or giving out of prescription drugs without a prescription is a felony. “It’s a nasty habit to get into, and I don’t want to get into that.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Illicit use of Adderall plagues college campuses”

  1. Spencer Wolf (Smith) on April 11th, 2011 7:11 pm

    Dakota hits an amazing article, which I am astonished no one has commented on.

    What I love is this article came out virtually the same time as “Limitless.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s about a man who has a poor life and comes across a pill which lets him use 100% of his brain (as it is believed we only use 20% to 30% of its capacity).

    While you watch the movie, you watch a nobody become one of the biggest people in the world. It’s an amazing process, and the entire time you think, “What would it be like if I used this?”

    I think the whole Adderall scare has more hype to it than people expect; everything has potential to be a gateway drug. Simply playing Call of Duty Black or even World of Warcraft can become addicting, and any addiction can lead to drugs. Even people addicted to foods like cranberries or chocolate.

    As for side effects, everything has side effects. Most prescription drugs have warnings that “death” can be a side effect. There are some common medications whose side effects sound terrifying, yet you may never have them. You have to ask yourself: is it worth it?

    It would be amazing if we could create something like NZT, the “Limitless” drug. I think Adderall, under monitoring and moderation, could actually be very helpful to some students; it’s just not meant for everyone. With that I mean, someone is going to be sensitive to it, and someone else is going to abuse it. Moderation is the key to everything.

    There are other alternatives:
    Coffee/Espresso: I had fourteen shots of espresso one morning and let met tell you, I felt “Limitless.” Too much caffeine can be bad, and espresso coffee can stain teeth, change how your body odor smells, upset your stomach, and cause a crash later on. When it comes to that crash, once you get over it, it’s worth it. Again moderation is the key to everything.

    Ginkgo Balboa: I have mixed feelings, I have tried this before and in some cases it really works like a charm; in others, I question if I swallowed a sugar pill. Besides the price, it’s all natural and really has no negative side effects. When it worked, it really was amazing. I felt no real difference other than being 100% focused, my mind clear, and I was able to remember a lot more than I usually do. Even if it’s a placebo, that edge may be all you need.

    Saint John’s Wort: Sounds disgusting when really it’s just a weed you can find in someone’s backyard. It also is a supplement, usually in pill form, and is believed to relieve stress and make you feel happier. It can help you focus a lot more when you’re not worrying about everything or are distracted because you’re upset or stressed. Another thing I like about it is that it’s all natural.

    There are other things like mind games, sleep, you can even pick up languages or learn new things when you’re not doing anything, and lots more.

    I have tried them all and have gotten pros and cons for them. I haven’t taken Adderall myself, but I know people who have and it shows little improvement in how they act when I see them work or even if they’re being social, unless they had ADHD.

    Long story short, the simpler things can work better. Try them first.

    [Reply]

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Illicit use of Adderall plagues college campuses