Increasing Accessibility of Drug Becoming a Problem on College Campuses
Reported by: Brian Cheung, Jennifer Greene, and Peter Quintana
Syracuse (NCC News) — As the semester winds down and approaches its end, the workload for students across college campuses nationwide begins to pile up. Libraries fill to capacity with students burying their heads in books, or more recently in laptops, all in preparation for finals. Whether it’s a massive cumulative exam or a final project and presentation, students often experience sleepless nights while working and studying. Using such energy for a prolonged time takes a toll on students’ bodies and focus. When it happens, some students resort to the use of a prescription drug called Adderall.
“Students use it for studying, making love, whatever. And that’s because it increases your energy and excitement,” Professor of Psychology Dr. Tibor Palfai said.
Palfai teaches courses in behavioral psychopharmacology and brain and behavior at Syracuse University. His expertise and main focus of research consists of the effects of drugs.
College Assignments and Adderall Pills
Adderall is becoming a prominent drug on college campuses including Syracuse University. The medication is usually prescribed to people who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or narcolepsy to hold off sleep, while controlling focus and attention. British-based pharmaceutical company Shire Pharmaceuticals developed the drug in 1996 and created an extended release capsule version of it five years later.
“It’s like an extreme high or extreme low,” Adderall-prescribed SU Sophomore Anthony said. “I can’t do any work without it, but on it, I do very good work.”
Anthony said he has been prescribed Adderall since his freshman year in high school when he noticed he couldn’t pay attention in class. When asked if he believed if Adderall has directly improved his grades over the years, he immediately and confidently replied, “Absolutely.”
College students without prescriptions have found ways to obtain the drug to improve their performance on tests or other assignments. Adderall users say when they have a lot of studying to do in a night, the drug keeps them awake and focused to study or work.
“I only take it in times of need… such as finals week,” Syracuse University Sophomore and psychology major named Dante said.
Dante does not have a prescription for Adderall. He declined to disclose his full name because of risk of punishment from authorities. Other students interviewed for this story who are actually prescribed the “study drug” also declined to disclose their full names because of fear of being attached to a stigma.
In most cases, people without prescriptions buy Adderall from students who do have prescriptions for their attention deficit disorders. A University of Wisconsin study discovered that one-in-five college students has taken Adderall without a doctor’s prescription.
As easy as it is to obtain the drugs from students with prescriptions, an increasing number of doctors are prescribing to their patients.
“Physicians are quite willing to prescribe it if there’s any sign of fatigue, restlessness or attention deficit, so it’s available,” Palfai said.
Engineering major at Syracuse University Sierra found herself struggling to focus on her work and began to “procrastinate a lot.” In February, her physician prescribed Adderall for “potentially having ADHD.” Shire Plc has experienced an increase of over 3000 percent in Adderall sales since 2002.
The side effects, both physical and behavioral, of Adderall have been a rising concern. Dante said he sometimes experiences “sweating, heart-racing, and typical stuff that you experience when you take stimulants,” when on Adderall.
“I get really mean, emotionless, and cold,” Sierra said. “And I zone out when people are talking to me.”
“When I’m on it, I’m not hungry, don’t sleep, and sometimes I talk too much,” Anthony said.
Side effects vary by individual, but Shire Plc lists the most common side effects as decrease of appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, trouble sleeping, headaches, nervousness, stomach ache, mood swings, temporary increases in blood pressure and heart rate, and emotional changes.
Preventing Addiction Through Education
Sober Living by the Sea is a drug rehab and alcohol treatment center in Newport Beach, California that has had clients recovering from Adderall abuse, most of whom were college women. Many of the clients left college to seek treatment, after which they would return to college to complete their degrees.
Sober Living’s Alumni Relations representative Michael Hurst said clients at the center have experienced psychological addictions, in addition to biological addictions to Adderall. A person who tries Adderall once and has a successful experience with it is likely to repeatedly use the drug to continue success on college papers or tests.
The habitual use of the drug is dangerous because of possible addiction, although Hurst said clients with addictions to only Adderall are rare. For most clients at the Sober Living by the Sea program, Adderall was a gateway drug to addictions to drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine.
Adderall’s accessibility exemplifies a greater problem concerning the growing abuse of prescription drugs. “In 19 years, we’ve basically seen an explosion of prescription drug addictions,” Hurst said. “It used to be alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, a little bit of speed and methamphetamine, and now it’s OxyContin, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, drugs like that.”
“That’s the unfortunate part of the equation: the irresponsibility of the FDA and big companies for just manufacturing drugs and trying to get them into as many people’s hands as possible,” Hurst said.
Hurst said education is key to stopping people without prescriptions from experimenting with prescription drugs. Whereas students are well aware of the dangers of abusing illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin, the abuse of prescription drugs such as Adderall is not often explained.
By implementing awareness campaigns, young students could understand the dangers of Adderall and dissuade themselves from trying it at all, Hurst said. These awareness campaigns would include contacts for rehab centers and help hotlines that would give addicts the assistance they need.
With the American educational system and the FDA lacking large-scale efforts on Adderall prevention, the focus turns to law enforcement agencies. Local police and campus safety departments are in charge of prosecuting illegal drug sales and consumption.
Cracking Down on College Sales of Adderall
At Syracuse University, illegal Adderall sales and consumption fall under the jurisdiction of both the Syracuse City Police Department and the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety. The Syracuse City Police Department does not investigate students consuming the drug illegally, but only investigates the selling of illegal substances, head of the Narcotics Division Lieutenant John Corbett said. The department has never investigated a distribution case involving Adderall.
As a result, the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety (DPS) has handled most cases involving Adderall. It has made a couple of arrests this year where students have illegally obtained or distributed Adderall, said Vernon Thompson, a Captain in the Investigations unit in DPS.
“Their excuse is to help them study.” Thompson said.
Public safety often picks up cases through health and safety checks or anonymous tips that someone is dealing, Thompson said. If DPS receives a tip about a dealer it will get a search warrant and go in to find the pills, Thompson said. DPS does not get nearly as many tips as there are dealers he said.
“If you’re dealing, that’s an automatic one-year suspension.” Thompson said.
There are often cases of students who buy unregulated prescriptions from Mexico or from dealers they don’t know and they take or sell what they believe is Adderall, but is either laced with chemicals or is a completely different drug, Thompson said.
Last year, DPS worked a case where two individuals were getting pills from a doctor in Miami with false prescriptions. Both students were brought to Florida and faced federal felony charges.
“We’ve had drugs brought in from California, Chicago, Florida, Canada, you name it we’ve had it here.” Thompson said.
Department of Public Safety officers attend a national Campus Law Enforcement Investigators Conference, Thompson said, so they know that Adderall misuse is no more substantial at Syracuse University than at other colleges or universities.
“What’s going on in Syracuse is going on in West Virginia, it’s going on in Berkeley, it’s going on down in Florida Central (sic),” Thompson said, “They’re all the same.”
The most common factor of Adderall abuse involves its prevalence on college campuses. The federal government’s 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that college students 18-22 were twice as likely to abuse Adderall than non-students of the same age group. The course load of a college semester makes the drug far more attractive to students, especially because it in fact works.
“[Adderall] is sort of the perfect American drug. You’re industrious, you want to work a lot, you’re active, and extroverted,” Dr. Tibor Palfai said. “It’s a great drug but people abuse it.”