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Look at Labels: What ADHD Medicine Can Do to You if it’s Not Yours

As multiple studies have shown, the illicit use of prescription drugs intended for the treatment of ADHD is a growing national trend among college students. What makes this phenomenon unique is the motive that students have for using these drugs; the majority of students are not illegally using ADHD medication for recreational purposes but rather as a tool to enhance academic performance and compensate for lack of sleep and time. This isn’t news for most college students, I am sure most of you are aware that this is a burgeoning issue.
In general, college students are more likely to abuse prescription stimulants than their peers of the same age who do not attend college (Cranford 2005).

There is something about the college environment that is a fundamental factor in driving students to use these medications illicitly, and I am sure you can all figure out why this is, STRESS! College students are stressed out. In fact, students attending colleges with more competitive admissions standards are more likely to illicitly use these stimulant drugs (DeSantis 2008). The majority of students using ADHD medication illicitly do so for the first time during finals week; when they are completely overwhelmed by having more than one exam on one day and feel it is necessary to resort to drugs (DeSantis 2008).

 Although initially driven by desperation, most students using these drugs do not express regret for doing so, and many use them again.  These seem to be one of the few forms of drugs on campus that is not taboo to talk about. If you are snorting cocaine off your roommate’s desk at 3 in the morning, you are probably not going to advertise that, but when I brought up ADHD medications in one of my classes multiple people immediately came forward and openly discussed their use of these drugs.  I get the impression that students do not feel ashamed of using ADHD medications because they are prescription drugs and students are using them for the same purpose as their ADHD diagnosed peers; this imparts a false sense of security that these drugs are safe and using them illegally is not really drug abuse.

So, if students are using these drugs in the same manner as they would with a prescription, to assist with schoolwork and concentration, then what is the harm?

  • These drugs can be very effective for treating the symptoms of ADHD, however when used inappropriately and without proper knowledge of the drug, they can be addictive and dangerous.
  • The DEA classifies these stimulants as Schedule II substances, the same classification as cocaine, morphine, PCP, and methamphetamine because of their potential for abuse and physical and psychological dependency (DeSantis 2008).
  • The students who are taking these drugs illegally have not consulted a professional before ingesting them; they therefore do not know if any other medications they are taking or preexisting conditions that they have will interact negatively with the ADHD medication.
  • Many students who use these stimulants experience symptoms including inability to sleep, sweating, increased heart rate and loss of appetite (DeSantis 2008).
  • When students receive the pills from friends they are not given the bottle, so they have no label to reference (DeSantis 2008). If they did, they would immediately see the potential consequences of misusing ADHD prescription medication.  These include serious cardiovascular events such as hypertension and even sudden death (Label and Approval History).
  • The labels of these medications are also important because they indicate the contraindications; conditions that serve as reason to withhold the particular medication. For Adderall the contraindications include advanced arteriosclerosis, symptomatic cardiovascular disease, moderate to severe hypertension, hyperthyroidism, known hypersensitivity or idiosyncrasy to the sympathomimetic amines, and glaucoma (Label and Approval History). Clearly, this is information necessary to know before ingesting a pill.
  • All of this information can be found on the internet, however in many studies no students interviewed researched the side effects of the drugs that they were taking before they took them.

The abuse of prescription ADHD medication has become more and more acceptable in college culture. These little pills are not quite as innocent as they seem and I think it is critical that students research them in depth rather then blindly listening to "so-and-so" from your class who offers you a Ritalin when you say you are stressed about your western heritage final. Newsflash, western heritage is not that hard! It is definitely not worth the risk of illegally ingesting dangerous drugs. Next time you are stressed, make a list, go for a walk, or consult the campus counseling services. They are FREE.  
      Cranford, James A., Sean E. McCabe, and Christian J. Teter. "Prevalence and Motives of Illicit Use of Prescription Stimulants in an Undergraduate Student Sample." Journal of American College Health 53.6 (2005): 253-62. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.
      DeSantis, Alan D., Elizabeth M. Webb, and Seth M. Noar. "Illicit Use of Prescription ADHD Medications on a College Campus: A Multimethodological Approach." Journal of American College Health 57.3 (2008): 315-23. Web. 1 Nov. 2011. 
      "Label and Approval History." FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ed. FDA/Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

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