Rising Stimulant Abuse Raises Concerns on Campus

The Claremont Colleges may take new precautions to ward off abuse of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) stimulants in the wake of rising reports of abuse of commonly prescribed drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and similar pills.

According to a January report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency room visits related to ADHD  stimulant medications in cases of non-medical use nearly tripled over the past five years, with abuse nearly quadrupling in the 18-25 year old age group.

Moya Carter, Dean of Students and Director of Campus Life at Pitzer College, and Jim Marchant, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Pitzer, briefly spoke about prescription drug abuse, including Adderall, at a recent Pitzer Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) meeting focused on first-year orientation.

Since it is a rising issue in the U.S., the FEC believes the college needs increased emphasis on the topic, and the Office of Student Affairs is discussing programming focused on preventing prescription medication abuse.

“We talked about having a [Resident Advisor] program and potentially bringing in speakers to discuss the issue,” Carter said.  “We’re definitely thinking of it as more of a wellness campaign and not punitive.”

Carter stated that there will likely be a prescription drug abuse component added to the alcohol program associated with first-year orientation, as well as programming throughout the year involving students from all classes.

ADHD stimulant medications, including Adderall, an amphetamine, are used medically to increase focus and decrease hyperactivity in patients with ADHD.

“As diagnosis of learning disabilities has increased and stimulant medications have become more widely used to treat ADHD, the number of students using Adderall or similar medications has steadily increased,” Dr. Fiona Vajk, Training Director and Senior Staff Psychologist at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS), wrote in an e-mail to TSL.

Those without ADHD may use these drugs for other purposes. Pomona College Drug and Alcohol Counselor Jasa Cocke said that these medications can be used for a variety of purposes, but that Adderall is primarily used as a “study drug,” allowing students to stay highly alert and focused for longer periods of time.

“The five colleges are a high-achieving school system where the students take their academics really seriously,” Carter said. “It sounds like there are some questions regarding our students’ use of prescription medication. I don’t have any concrete information that leads me to believe that that’s happening, but I personally can’t believe that it’s not.”

Vajk also wrote that the exact prevalence of Adderall at the Claremont Colleges is not currently being quantified.

“It is hard to compare numbers [of students abusing stimulants] to other colleges, because we don’t know for certain what the numbers are here,” Vajk wrote.

But students confirmed Adderall’s presence as a recreational and study drug on the campuses.

“There’s definitely an uptake in Adderall use during finals week,” Adam Cox PO ’14 said. “I think it’s not particularly easy to get, but if you know someone who has a prescription, that person is usually more than happy to sell it.”

Some students have a critical opinion of using such study drugs with the aim of temporarily altering their focusing capacity.

“To me, using unprescribed Adderall to improve performance in school is the same as using steroids to get ahead in sports,” Aloke Desai PO ’16 said.

According to some students, prescription ADHD medications such as Adderall are also used on the 5Cs in attempts to intensify their partying experiences.

“It’s a stimulant, so it keeps you awake, and so people will take it to go out or go to a concert,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “If you don’t want to take ecstasy, it could be an alternative, not that those are hand-in-hand by any means. It’s often used for music festivals or day-long parties. If you’re planning on partying for a significant amount of time, it can help you stay awake,” the student said.

Unprescribed Adderall use can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and quickened heart rate, which can lead some users to seek medical attention.

“It can be difficult to go to sleep; you can get jittery; you can potentially be dependent on it if you really like it,” said the student. “If you’d normally be at a point where you’re like ‘I need to go to sleep,’ instead, [on Adderall] you feel like, ‘no, I’m great, I can keep drinking.’ I don’t really think it’s a sustainable lifestyle.”

According to Cocke, the pills are often bought and sold on the Internet and in person from those with medical prescriptions, usually for less than $10 per pill. Cocke said that just because a person has a prescription for ADHD stimulant medication does not mean that it is medically necessary for him or her.  She said that obtaining a positive ADHD diagnosis without actually having the disorder is not impossible, even after the two- to three-hour evaluation process that proper diagnosis requires. MCAPS has a new policy that attempts to prevent students without ADHD from obtaining a prescription.

“Several years ago, we implemented a policy that, due to excessive stimulant seeking on campus, MCAPS psychiatrists will not act as the initial prescriber for stimulant medication,” Vjak wrote. “We never knowingly continue prescriptions for students who are abusing these medications, but of course it is impossible to know what is occurring ‘under the radar.’  All we can do is try to prevent this.”

Just like all amphetamines, users build tolerance to Adderall, and therefore those who abuse the drug often increase doses in order to obtain the same type of effect as they did initially. Adderall can have adverse side effects, including heart problems, severe mental problems, insomnia, Tourette’s syndrome, and seizures, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As an amphetamine, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II stimulant, indicating that it has high potential for abuse, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  Prescription drugs are considered controlled substances, and possession without a prescription or possession with the intent to sell is a felony according to the state of California’s Health and Safety Code.

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