Are students turning to Adderall to get A’s?

By Matthew M. Robare

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“It’s a very easy thing to find,” said one University of Massachusetts sophomore who wished to remain anonymous. “All my friends are prescribed it, and so is my sister. I don’t even buy it.”

She was talking about Adderall, a drug prescribed to control Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other attention-related issues. Adderall is made from amphetamines, a class of stimulants placed on Schedule II of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning that “The abuse of the drug . . . may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

She said that she doesn’t believe taking Adderall will have any negative consequences.

“I don’t snort it, I just take it,” she said, echoing a belief many students seem to hold that, if taken the way the drug is medically prescribed and not insufflated recreationally, there are no issues.

“I love Adderall,” she added. “I love it. I can write papers in, like, an hour and a half; I don’t eat all day and then I’ll smoke weed, get really retarded, and it’s so fun.”

At the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Shire Pharmaceuticals, the British company which developed and marketed Adderall, had made about $2.7 billion from sales and royalties on generics, according to the company’s financial summary page on its website.

According to Diane Fedorchak, director of the Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS), only eight percent of UMass students have used stimulants in the past 30 days when not under the direction of a doctor. The “stimulants” category, however, does not currently include questions on caffeine, and her program is engaged in research on what constitutes caffeine abuse. Fedorchak delivered these numbers while staring at her coffee cup, and on her desk there was a framed picture with the words “With enough coffee I could rule the world.”

“What we find is that most students don’t use these,” Fedorchak said of prescription stimulants. “We hear of increases around mid-terms and finals,” she added.

She said people who are prescribed Adderall to treat ADHD have a brain chemistry where its stimulant effect “calms their brains” and allows such individuals to focus and behave normally.

“The students who are saying they like it,” said Fedorchak, “are probably getting more of a high effect and saying they can stay up longer and get a lot of work done and then, what usually happens is a crash.”

“Coming down is really bad,” the unnamed female student said. “I get in a really bad mood and people would notice and not like me. I get pretty antisocial on it; it depends how much I take, what the dosage is. Usually I just focus on one thing and don’t want to be bothered.”

Fedorchak said University Health Services does not believe using prescription stimulants or other so-called “study drugs” are the ideal means of preparing for exams.

“I would say that using a drug to get your work done and then not eating might not be the healthiest way to go about doing something,” she said. “And then crashing from the use of the pills because, if you only use it sporadically, then yes, there’s a crash and that has some health consequences. And then if you’re going to follow that up by smoking marijuana, that has consequences.”

Fedorchak said she would ask students who use study drugs alone or in tandem with depressants like marijuana in what frequency they smoke marijuana or take Adderall, if they believe it is acceptable to be using a drug to get work done and what such students’ future plans entail. “Are you learning how to pace yourself and balance work and life, or are you getting into a habit of ‘Oh I’m going to take a pill and then totally crash,’” she posited.

The student said she wasn’t worried about forming a habit.
“If I had a test, I’d take it a couple times a week,” she said. “But if not then I’d smoke weed a lot.”

“Never drink on Adderall,” the student cautioned. “I can tell you that from experience; you black out.”

Fedorchak cautioned students not prescribed stimulants that such drugs could have adverse effects on their body chemistry.

“When you’re putting a stimulant into your body and you’re not working with a doctor, you don’t know what it’s doing to your heart rate,” she said. “You don’t know the dosage, so you don’t necessarily know how much you’re taking. A lot of times people are getting these pills from their friends, so they might get one dose from you and another dose from someone else, so it’s really easy to take more than your tolerance can handle. If you’re used to a lower dose and all of a sudden you get a higher dose, before you know it that could definitely have some health impact, absolutely,” she emphasized.

According to a pamphlet distributed by University Health Services called “Prescription Drug Abuse,” possible negative side effects of stimulants include trouble sleeping, high body temperature and irregular heartbeat, heart failure, seizures, hostility and paranoia.

Fedorchak said one of the main health effects of using and abusing stimulants are the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using them. She said she worried a culture is developing of students cramming and pushing work off to the last minute, then becoming reliant on stimulants to soldier through. She said she fears students may be getting a rush out of feeling rushed.

“This is a really important time in the school year,” Fedorchak said. “Crunch time; finals and papers are due, so ‘How do I get enough sleep? Will I hang out with my friends? Maybe I didn’t do my papers all semester and now I have to do them last minute. Maybe next time I could not due that.’ So there’s definitely some negative consequences associated with taking these kinds of stimulants.”

One UMass student, though, seemed to think she would be alright regardless.

“No [I don’t think I’ll ever have any negative effects]. I can’t think of what they’d be,” the student said. “Besides, I don’t use it that often.”

Matthew M. Robare can be reached at [email protected]