Students Abuse Adderall

Frazzled and struggling with his work, Brian stepped outside the Little Building around 3 a.m., lit up a Camel Turkish Silver, and looked out at a calm Boylston Street.

It was Thursday during finals week last semester, and the sophomore needed a boost. The five-page ethics paper due in five hours wasn’t going to write itself.

He couldn’t focus. Time was running out. He needed a quick fix.

“I saw a friend of mine and he was like, ‘Oh, would you wanna try it?’” Brian, a visual and media arts major, recalled. “I figured, why not?”

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“It” was Concerta, Brian said, a spinoff of the prescription drug Ritalin and similar to Adderall. Each is prescribed to adolescents to help combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the ADHD organization’s website, and can help improve the focus and ability to work of those who take it.

Students interviewed for this report said abuse of Adderall and Ritalin is common at Emerson and enables its users to get a high that increases their attentiveness and endurance.

Jane Powers, the director of Emerson’s center for health and wellness, provided the Beacon with statistics of Adderall and Ritalin abuse among the student body from a survey conducted last May.

“At Emerson the reported use was 14% of the male and 11% of the female respondents had used either of these medications (Adderall and Ritalin) without prescription,” Powers said in an e-mail, adding that 579 students responded to the survey, about 20 percent of the entire student body.

This rate is higher than the national average, Powers said in her e-mail. Based on results from the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey, the nationwide response average was eight percent of male and six percent of female college students reported illegally using the drugs.

Powers cautioned against the serious side affects of abusing these drugs and said the health center warns students who have prescriptions for these drugs to keep them in a locked, safe place and to not share them.

The problem seems to transcend Emerson. One out of every five college students in America have abused the drug, according to estimates by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Just yesterday, five Columbia University students were arrested for dealing drugs out of their fraternity house on campus, according to CBS news. Among the drugs seized by police was Adderall.

Dr. John Sargent, the chief of child psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center, said while the drug is akin to other illegal substances and has harmful side effects, it does provide what students want: extra energy.

“It’s a stimulant,” Sargent said. “It is in the same class of drugs as methamphetamine, which is speed, and it is just as addictive. But there’s no question that it focuses concentration, somebody might abuse it to get high and some might use it to stay up at night.”

For Brian, the jolt was nearly instantaneous. Two hours after taking the pill and slumping into the lumpy, red couch in the sixth floor common room, his paper was finished.

“It had an extreme effect,” the sophomore said. “I became really happy, I was writing and getting things done. In a video game sense, it’s a power up.” I love this analogy me too, great quote

The most common way for students without ADHD to get the drug is for those who have a prescription to sell the leftovers.

An Emerson sophomore and self-described Adderall dealer said she sells about 20 pills out of the 30 she receives each month from her prescription.

The marketing major said she regularly deals 20 milligram extended release capsules to about seven students, but that there are other pill peddlers on campus who sell to 20, or even 30 people.

“I dealt a little bit in high school with friends,” the marketing major said. “Then I got to college, and it was like a boom here.”

Most pills sell for around $5 to $10 a piece, the dealer said. Some suppliers sell larger, 64-milligram pills, which can command a higher price.

Many students who consume the drug, she said, simply swallow it. But some crush and snort it for a more immediate, intense effect.

Sargent said snorting the drug will make it enter the bloodstream quicker, but cautioned against the side effects of the drug, which can include increased heart rate, long-term damage to one’s body, and decreased sleep and appetite. One report from the online ADHD help center said it can, in rare cases, result in sudden death syndrome.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s commonly abused,” Sargent said. “I think it’s a problem because the person who’s diverting it [the dealer] is causing problems.”

Over four million children are prescribed Adderall each year in the United States, a CBS News report said. The drug stimulates chemical in the brain that control attentiveness, which help ADHD patients focus, Sargent said.

But when abused on college campuses, it’s an easy way to cram.

“It’s a pretty common method,” the dealer said. “I don’t think people want to be taking drugs, but there’s such pressure coming from everyone. Mediocrity isn’t that accepted anymore. You have to stand out.”

Powers had a similar take, saying she is not surprised by the prescription drug abuse on campus.

“Emerson is an extremely competitive environment and there is a great deal of anxiety and stress concerning academic performance,” Powers said. “Some students may feel the “need” to use these medications in order to do well and because these are “legal prescription drugs” they may be perceived to be “safe” to use.”

That was the motivation for one sophomore digital post production major who popped two 64-milligram Adderalls 12 hours apart. The tiny blue pills kept her awake for 40 hours.

“I was a little jittery,” she said. “People asked me if I was sick. I guess I looked strung out, but I wasn’t. I felt great.”

Sargent said the effects of becoming addictive could shorten one’s lifespan.

“It’s what could happen to ‘speedfreaks’ who are using a lot of methamphetamine,” Sargent said. “They just age faster. You’re burning up calories with no fuel. It’s a big problem.”

Bottom line, one sophomore theater studies major said, Adderall provides many college students with what they want: a quick and easy shot of adrenaline.

“Part of me feels like it’s a modern-day, enhanced version of speed,” he said. “Just less dangerous.”