Prescription meds used to gain edge in classwork

School of Communication
University of Miami

One new text message, eight new e-mails, your friend just commented on your Facebook status and left a link to the newest YouTube video — with the advances in technology the ability to focus is dwindling with each new generation.

But the solution for this problem has come for many in a small blue pill called Adderall.  Adderall is a prescription amphetamine that is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD).

The Mayo Clinic defines ADHD as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. Problems associated with ADHD include inattention and hyperactive, impulsive behavior.

Children with ADHD may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school. Much more than just than inability to focus goes along with the disorder, yet many college students are using the pill illegally to help them focus and gain an edge in school.

Because they are able to help students in school do better the medical community has started calling amphetamines “neuro-enhancing drugs.”

Birmingham, Ala., psychiatrist, Stewart Waddell, said, “Since [Adderall] is a performance enhancing drug it will still help [those] who do not have ADHD. It is the drug du-jour on college campuses and a lot of people will use some of it.”

University of Miami undergraduate, pre-dental student, Shifat Hossain has noted widespread use,

“I know a lot of people who have taken Adderall during the exam period. It is so common it is not even a big deal anymore,” she said.

University Honor Council Member and student Lk Lau knows that the going rate for a five milligram pill during the exam period can be as much as $10. Students are illegally obtaining these prescription pills from their peers or they are faking the symptoms of ADHD to mental health doctors in order to be prescribed the pill.

Amphetamines are one of many drugs used to aid students on campus.

Amphetamines, such as Adderall, are successful at helping students focus and get their work done because they are stimulants.

In fact, Adderall has been described in the past as being a low dose of the recreational drug Speed, which stimulant and a form of amphetamine salt. The problem facing the medical community is the fact that although amphetamines are effective in treating ADHD, they have harmful side effects and they are being taken incorrectly by people without a prescription, especially on college campuses.

The company that makes Adderall, Shire, lists aggression and lack of appetite as the most common side effects.

University of Miami undergraduate student Joshua Chazen is prescribed Adderall and feels that the side effects are so severe that no one who does not need it would want to take Adderall.

Students under stress of exams and other class work may turn to prescription medicines for help.

“There are super serious side effects to taking Adderall. Some of the positives are increased attention and a lack of appetite, but some of the negatives are the easy agitation I feel because I am so focused,” said Chazen.

Chazen is surprised how many students take the drug illegally to help the focus because the side effects can really mess a person up psychologically.

University student Kristen Jones, who asked her name be changed because of the nature of the story, admitted to once taking Adderall to help her get through an evening in which she had two papers and a test the next day.

“I will never do it again,” Jones said, “I got everything done and received an “A” on all of my assignments, but I was unable to sleep for three days. The difference between an “A” and a “B” was not worth how it affected me.”

Lack of appetite is a side effect of the pill that is often the primary reason to take it. It is popular for girls to take the pill in order to either lose weight or stay thin. Chazen, in fact, said it was one of the positive outcomes from taking the pill. He said he lost 30 pounds once he was prescribed the pill his sophomore year of high school. Although it is effective, this is a dangerous way to lose weight.

Adderall is so dangerous that is was outlawed as a prescription drug in Canada during 2005. Canada cited 12 sudden deaths in American children who had been prescribed the drug as the reason for outlawing it. Adderall was later allowed back on the market in Canada when changes were made to ensure that the pill not be prescribed to children with heart defects.

Health officials are trying to be more careful when prescribing the drug. Alice Bailey, an office assistant at The University of Miami Counseling Center said that the center will not allow its psychiatrists to prescribe the drug because it is a controlled substance and has a history of bad side effects.

But Adderall is not just a health issue on college campuses. It has also become an ethical issue.

Wesleyan University’s Honor Code Review Committee recently took a look at prescription amphetamines, such as Adderall, and tried to determine if taking these drugs without a prescription is equivalent to cheating.

The argument for this rationale is thus: it is not fair for someone who is able to pay for and get their hands on one of these different amphetamines to do better on an exam. These students give themselves an unfair advantage, just as athletes who you performance enhancing drugs or steroids have an unfair advantage.

Upon looking at this issue, members of the Honor Code Committee realized that it is wrong to take these prescription drugs illegally, but it is also very hard to prosecute anyone who is taking them.

University of Miami Honor Council member Lk Lau echoed these sentiments.

“I do not think that the Honor Council will ever be able to recognize the prescription drug abuse of Adderall as cheating because it would be so hard to prove. It is not so much an issue of integrity as it is an issue of health and time management,“ Lau stated.

The illegality of the of obtaining the pill is an ethical issue that will stop the prescription drug abuse before the idea of it being considered cheating will because taking energy drinks, or vats of coffee could be seen as an unfair advantage as well with that rationale.

Birmingham psychiatrist Waddell, said, “It is not cheating in the traditional sense. It is a performance enhancer, but so are sex drugs. Is that cheating? It is controversial, but I am not sure I would call it cheating.”

There is also an ethical issue with prescription amphetamines that is often overlooked. It is the issue of prescription drug advertising.

Many people believe that this should not be allowed because it influences people’s beliefs on what pills they should be taking when generic pills or another drug is just as effective.

Dr. Alyse Lancaster, an associate professor and director of the Advertising Program at the University of Miami said, “[Prescription drug advertising] is a debate in advertising because the problem is that patients come in asking for drugs without knowing everything, but [prescription drug advertising] is also helpful because patients are not being blindly prescribed.”

Since Adderall has become so controversial in recent years, the drug company that makes Adderall, Shire, has developed a new pill called Vyvanse. It is advertised as lasting longer than Adderall.

Waddell said that this occurs because Vyvanse must be metabolized. People must swallow the pill, unlike Adderall, which goes directly into the blood stream and is frequently snorted by students. Waddell also mentioned that since it must be metabolized it is slightly less likely to be abused.

Advertisements for Vyvanse can be found on any Web page that contains information about ADHD. It is now becoming the so-called go-to drug for college students. It has the same side effects, though, as Adderall. People who are uneducated about the similarities in the drugs are now asking for Vyvanse instead of Adderall because they are afraid of taking Adderall due to its side effects.

“Companies have cut back on advertising to physicians and are advertising more to consumers, but people will often be set on a pill after seeing the advertisement when a more cost effective pill would do the same job just as well,” said Waddell.

With prescription drug advertising other medications for ADHD are often overlooked. The Eli Lilly Company makes a pill called Strattera that treats ADHD. Strattera is an atomoxetine,, not an amphetamine, and is therefore less likely to be abused than Adderall. It is not released immediately.

Waddell said Strattera is a good alternative drug, but it is not given out as much because it is not as effective as the amphetamines, which are stimulants. He said that stimulants are often needed in order to help people with ADHD, but that when Strattera is affective in patients it is a better drug. He said the side effects of the drug are much less.

It takes one week of taking the pill, Strattera, for the effects to be felt. For this reason, it is not used by students on college campuses to help them study for an exam, and dry mouth is listed as the most common side effect.

Prescription drug abuse in America is becoming a serious problem. It is only second to illegal use of marijuana, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Yet, it is becoming a normal part of our culture, especially on college campuses.

It is students such as Jones who have two papers and a test all on the same day that are driven to take these drugs. Without responding to the causes of prescription drug abuse, and a revamp of the academic structure on college campuses will continue to see students illegally taking medication to try to get through their course load.

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