Students misusing Adderall for sharper focus

It is slightly risky, very easy to get, and helps students stay awake for hours at a time. Many students are using a prescription drug, Adderall, to write papers or cram for exams without getting

It is slightly risky, very easy to get, and helps students stay awake for hours at a time. Many students are using a prescription drug, Adderall, to write papers or cram for exams without getting tired. The trend is popular at schools throughout the country.

Adderall is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The stimulant is a combination of the salts amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Shire Pharmaceuticals Group, which created Adderall, describes it as “a modulator that balances neurotransmitters in areas of the brain that control our ability to focus and pay attention to tasks.” It improves attention span and decreases distractibility in ADHD patients.

“It helps you focus,” said Tom, a freshman who did not want to give his last name and admitted he takes Adderall when he has “an intense test or a lot of work.”

“You can stay up for 36 hours and not feel tired,” he said.

There are two types of the drug: Adderall, an immediate reaction tablet, and Adderall XR, an extended release capsule. Students get the drug from other students with Adderall prescriptions. Both types are available in milligrams.

“Ten milligrams is usually $2 and the price increases by the amount,” Tom said.

The amounts range from 5 to 30 milligrams. Tablets are either swallowed whole or crushed and snorted. Capsules can be swallowed with or without food.

Side effects, according to Shire, include insomnia, decreased appetite and abdominal pain. The Food and Drug Administration lists decreased growth, weight loss, headache, dry mouth and agitation as additional reactions. Tom experienced two side effects: weight loss and agitation.

“I have lost a lot of weight,” he said. “Your teeth clench and your legs shake a lot.”

The National Library of Medicine reported on its Web site that “tolerance may develop with long-term or excessive use, making the drug less effective.”

Tom also said Adderall is “very easy” to find on campus.

“Brian,” a freshman who wished to remain anonymous, agreed.

“I haven’t heard of a lot of people selling it; most people just get it prescribed,” Brian said. “However, if students talk to enough people, I don’t think they’ll have a very hard time finding some.” Brian also said most students “only use it for studying.”

Tom uses the drug recreationally as well but said: “Everyone that I know who uses it uses it for tests studying and writing papers.”

Adderall was originally marketed under the name Obetrol as a treatment for ADHD and obesity. Besides ADHD, it is currently used to treat narcolepsy. Adderall gained FDA approval in 1996 and is prescribed to children three and older. Adderall XR was approved in 2001 and is for children ages 6 and older. Last August, the FDA approved adult use of the capsules, which were previously only prescribed to children.

“Rachel,” a freshman, took Adderall for the first time when she had a paper due the next day. Like Tom, she said the ability to focus is the greatest benefit.

“I took it when I started to get tired and stayed up the whole night,” she said.

Adderall allowed her to concentrate for six or seven hours straight. She got a tablet from another student and said she would take it again if she needed it.

Last month, Canada suspended sales of Adderall XR, the only form of the drug sold in the country, due to 20 sudden deaths – heart-related and strokes – in adults and children taking recommended doses. None of the deaths occurred in Canada. Twelve occurred in American males, ages 7 to 16, taking either the tablet or capsule between 2000 and 2003. Adderall XR is still being prescribed in the United States. The FDA is unsure if Adderall or Adderall XR caused deaths since some patients had heart problems or were taking other medications.

Shire’s U.S. corporate headquarters are in Wayne, Pa.

“In 2004 alone, more than 2 million patients in the U.S. used Adderall or Adderall XR to help manage their ADHD symptoms,” according to Shire’s Web site. The number of people who misuse the drug is unknown.

Stephanie Young can be reached at


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