Students self-medicate

By Linsey Garrison, Staff Writer

Photo illustration by: Aaron MalmoeThe National Institute on Drug Abuse says that stimulants such a Adderall increase alertness, motivation, concentration, and energy.
Photo illustration by: Aaron Malmoe
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that stimulants such a Adderall increase alertness, motivation, concentration, and energy.

When school and life create too many tasks to accomplish in one day, students across the nation have found that the effects of Adderall can be appealing, and EWU students are no different.

Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants commonly prescribed to children and adults who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In recent years, Adderall has been adopted by college and even some high school students as a means of getting a mental boost when studying. Just like an athlete who wants to improve his or her game on the field with steroids, a student who wants to get more of an edge in the classroom turns to Adderall. Yet, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, abusing stimulants such as Adderall can come with some serious health risks including cardiovascular damage, malnutrition and addiction. Sharing or selling prescription medication is also a felony for anyone involved in the transaction.

In 2009, the National Study on Drug Use and Health said that full-time college students ages 18 to 22 were twice as likely as their peers to have used Adderall for non-medical reasons in the past year.

Last June, The New York Times published multiple articles about the growing popularity of the drug among young students. In “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill” and “In Their Own Words: ‘Study Drugs,’” students from around the country told their stories about struggling with and abusing prescription ADHD medication to get better grades.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that stimulants such as Adderall increase alertness, motivation, concentration and energy. These are all favorable for a student traditionally under pressure to meet a deadline or stay up all night to study for an exam.

When final exams and projects start piling up at the end of the quarter, one EWU junior said she does not hesitate to use every aid that she can. She asked that her name be withheld.

“The reason I take it is to help me focus and accomplish a whole bunch of work that I need to finish in a certain amount of time. If I’m really crammed I’ll take it.”

The junior said she does not have a prescription, but instead buys pills for $5 each from a friend who does.

“I know she does sell it to some other people. … I probably take it twice per quarter, pretty much around midterms and finals,” said the junior.

The junior says she first tried Adderall last spring quarter when her roommate offered her a pill.

That first pill kept her awake for nearly 30 hours. After studying and taking her test, she felt tired and went home to sleep but found it to be nearly impossible.

“I was kind of iffy at first, … but I took it because [my roommate] had tried it and nothing went wrong,” said the junior.

The 30-milligram, extended-release pill allows her to stay focused on many chapters worth of reading without any chance of being distracted by background noises. Other than not being able to sleep when she wants, she has never felt any other negative side effects.

“I can study without it, but sometimes if I feel like it’s too much—that no matter how much work I do if I don’t feel like it’s enough, then I take it. It really does help my grades when I take it. I could pass without it, but I want a better grade,” said the junior.

A senior at EWU who asked that his name be withheld also takes Adderall as a study aid. He got his prescription a year ago and is allowed 58 instant-release pills per month at 30 milligrams each. He typically takes a pill every weekday before classes or work with each pill lasting anywhere from four to eight hours before wearing off.

“It helps me focus on what I’m doing instead of sidetracking off and thinking about other stuff,” said the senior, “I know it doesn’t give me more brain power, but if I want to study the night before a test or the weeks leading up to a test, I’ll take it to study.”

Occasionally, he shares his prescription with friends.

“I don’t share more than I actually take. I have a few buddies that have the same exact prescription that I do, and if they sold theirs or just ran out I give them some. I’ve shared with maybe 10 people,” the senior said.

“People do ask me for it a lot, and I’ll just say I don’t have any or can’t give any away. During finals people ask for it a lot more,” the senior said.

The Office of Alcohol and Drug Education at the University of Notre Dame recommends not mixing alcohol with stimulants like Adderall. “The stimulant effect can cause students to prolong use resulting in consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol which has lead to cases of alcohol poisoning. Stimulants in the system can block the depressant effect shutting off the warning signs to a person’s body that they may be drinking too much.”

Despite this, the senior has mixed his prescription with alcohol.

“If I take it when I drink, I’ll drink more than I usually would. For some reason [the alcohol] doesn’t affect me as much. It allows you to drink more, which isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. … That’s just what happens,” said the senior.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, side effects and signs of overdose can include dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat.

“I have taken too much before. … It almost does the opposite, you can’t focus at all, you’re up and awake, and it’s like you had a bunch of energy drinks,” said the senior, “Right after taking it I’ve gone and worked out and my heart is just racing. It raises your heart rate for sure. I think it gets more blood flow to my brain, so sometimes you get cold on certain parts of your skin, just from a reduction of blood flow.”

The FDA Adderall label warns, “Amphetamines have a high potential for abuse. Administration of amphetamines for prolonged periods of time may lead to drug dependence and must be avoided. Particular attention should be paid to the possibility of subjects obtaining amphetamines for other non-therapeutic use or distribution to others. … Misuse of amphetamine may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.”

Sergeant Lorraine Hill of the EWU police department has encountered students abusing the drug while on patrol.

“You know they’re on something, but you don’t always know what it is. We know it’s happening, but typically it’s a mix of things,” said Hill, “It’s hard to catch. The only way we usually get involved is if someone gives us information or we find prescription bottles or pills during a search that don’t belong to the person.”

Deputy Chief Gary Gassling said that he could only recall about three cases in 2012 that involved Adderall abuse, but he still suspects that there may be more students on campus that choose to abuse the drug.

“The majority of people that are probably abusing it … are not getting reported. All you have to do is look at the statistical data across the country; it’s a drug of choice right now with college students,” said Gassling, “They have a firm belief that it does help you stay more alert and can help you study.”

Gassling said that sharing or selling your prescription is a felony for both the person giving and receiving the drug. Being caught with someone else’s Adderall can potentially mean jail time or a large fine on top of having a record.

“If it’s not yours, you can’t possess it. If you give it to someone else, two people sharing makes them both felons,” said Gassling, “The reality of it is you need sleep. Your body just doesn’t function properly when you’re doing that to yourself. You’re not helping yourself when you’re taking it to keep yourself up to study harder.”