It’s 4 a.m. Monday morning. After a long night working at Denim Lounge, a posh bar and club located on Walnut Street in Center City, Kim, a freshman geography and urban studies major whose last name is not being used for anonymity, has a paper due at noon.And she is exhausted. To get through the night she pops some Adderall, a stimulant mixed with amphetamine salts that is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Kim is not alone in her use of the late-night pick-me-ups. More and more students are turning to prescription drugs to deal with stress and their heavy workloads, according to a study released in March by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The study, titled “Wasting the best and the brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities”, stated that the rates of all forms of prescription drug abuse among college students now surpasses the rates of forms of illicit drug use. Marijuana is the only exception.
Dr. Peter DeMaria Jr., a psychiatrist at Tuttleman Counseling Services on Main Campus, said Adderall is used by students to enhancetheir academic performances.
According to the “New England Journal of Medicine”, painkiller drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet are highly addictive prescription opiods that are abused by students looking to relieve stress. The first time Kim took Adderall was during
winter break, when she and a few friends snorted it to see how it would feel.
“It hits you a lot faster when you snort it, like 10 minutes, but it doesn’t last that long,” Kim said.
Since then, she has taken it about five more times to help her stay awake to do homework. She gets her supply from a friend who was prescribed the drug for her attention deficit disorder. The friend doesn’t like the way it makes her feel so she gives it out to friends instead of taking it, Kim said.
DeMaria said it is dangerous to take prescription medications that are not prescribed to users for their intended use. A person’s dosage is individually determined and taking another person’s medicine can lead to many side effects, which could cause death, he said.
Kim said 15 milligrams is enough to keep her going all night.
“It doesn’t make me write better papers or concentrate. It just makes me stay up,” Kim said. If she takes more than 15 milligrams, Kim said she feels very jittery. It’s as if she has ADD or is on amphetamine sulphate, a stimulant drug commonly known as speed. Even though it sometimes makes her feel scatterbrained, Kim said she will continue taking Adderall when she needs it, adding that she will probably take it again during finals.
DeMaria said students are very susceptible
to stimulant drug abuse as they prepare for finals.
“Experimental drug abuse among students is very common,” he said. But prescription
drug abuse is not the answer to academic achievement, he added. “It’s hard to be a successful student if you’re addicted to drugs,” DeMaria said.
Kim said she is not addicted to Adderall. It was something new for a while and now she is over it, she said. But she admits she’ll probably keep taking it when she needs to stay up. Before using Adderall, Kim said she would just sleep in after staying up all night to write papers. But now she doesn’t need to sleep the morning after her all-nighters.
Students who abuse prescription drugs are usually looking to relieve stress or enhance performance, DeMaria said. About 65.2 percent of students who abuse prescription stimulants use them to concentrate, according to the study by CASA. But there has not been any research that links Ritalin or Adderall use to increased academic performance, even though many students believe these stimulants will help them academically, the study said.
Freshman theater major Christina, whose last name is not being used for anonymity, doesn’t take Adderall for its supposed grade-boosting effect. Instead she uses the drug recreationally.
She tried it for the first time one month ago with her roommate because she thought it would be cool and heard it would increase her energy and decrease her appetite.
DeMaria said students overlook the side effects of stimulants like Adderall because of the short-term effects, naming heart irregularity and stroke as some of the side effects of using the stimulant. When taken over a period of time, stimulants can cause changes in the brain, which may lead to paranoia and depression, he added.
College students have a tendency to perceive prescription drugs to be safer than other drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor, according to the CASA study. But recreational prescription drug abuse is most dangerous for women. The study states that women are twice as likely to become addicted than men. Although stimulant addicts account for a small percentage of the students DeMaria counsels, he said it is very serious for the students that are battling
Christina and her roommate obtained the pills from a friend’s boyfriend. He sold 10 5-milligram pills for $10. Christina said she didn’t feel much after taking 15 milligrams of Adderall.
“I thought it would make me feel higher, but it didn’t,” she said. “I felt pretty normal, besides staying up the whole night.” She said her roommate, who took 25 milligrams, was hyper and talking quickly. The remaining pills that Christina and her roommate didn’t take were given to a friend who needed to stay awake to study.
Christina said she would use Adderall again but during the day rather than late at night. Students who give their prescribed medicine to friends think they are helping them while making some money on the side, DeMaria said. He also said that some students who are prescribed stimulants like Adderall may feel peer pressure to sell to friends. The availability of these pills could be attributed to the over-diagnosis of ADHD, DeMaria said.
Sixty-one percent of students who participated in CASA’s national survey said that it is somewhat easy to obtain prescription drugs. Some said they had even faked symptoms to obtain prescriptions.
“A common notion among stimulant abusers is that if they do not take advantage of the medicine like everyone else, they will fall behind their peers academically,” according to the CASA study.
The pressure on students to sell their prescriptions may be high, but the fear of committing a crime can be higher. Lindsey Hrichak, a junior biology major, has been prescribed the pain killers Percocet and Vicodin.
“I didn’t take any of the Percocet because it made me sick, and I only took about half of the bottle of Vicodin,” Hrichak said.
Hrichak considered bringing the extra pills to school because people told her they would buy them. One person offered her $4 a pill. But Hrichak declined the offers.
“I was afraid that I would somehow get in trouble for giving out prescription drugs,” Hrichak said. “I wonder why people take it because it made me sick. But I heard that if you don’t have any pain, it makes you feel like you were high, like if you were smoking or drinking.”
In 2005, 22.9 percent of college students met the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence, which according to the CASA study is almost triple the proportion of people in the general population who abuse substances.
Tuttleman Counseling Services, located in the lower level of Sullivan Hall, employs a multi-pronged approach when dealing with substance abuse issues, including sponsorship of substance-free events and counseling, DeMaria said. It also works with the University Disciplinary Committee and Campus Alcohol and Substance Awareness.
Effective stress management can keep students from turning to stimulant abuse, DeMaria said, adding that students should be careful what they agree to without overloading their schedules. Toward the end of the semester when students tend to be busier, they should plan accordingly and make sure to take time to relax, DeMaria added.
LeAnne Matlach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.