To ease the stress of school, students turn to Adderall, a dangerous prescription pill

By CHLOE RAMBERG, staff reporter

Katie’s mind was completely blank as she stared at the mountain of homework piled on her desk. She was exhausted from pulling all nighters and didn’t think she had it in her to do it again.

Always an excellent student, Katie would go above and beyond to keep her grades up. But as she sat in her room during finals week, her determination was overcome by exhaustion.

“I just got to the point where I had no motivation left in me,” said Katie (who wished to remain anonymous.)

She remembered a friend telling her about the “miracle drug” called Adderall — A little blue pill that could give her tons of energy, and help her finish all her homework and ace all her tests.

Adderall, a drug containing amphetamines, is prescribed for those diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and has become popular among students.

A recent study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found the use of Adderall by non-prescribed students during the past decade has drastically increased.

I.M.S. Health said nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for ADHD were written for individuals between the ages  of 20 – 39 in 2011 alone.

These could be prescriptions written for people who actually have the disorder, but experts at I.M.S. claim college students can easily obtain the stimulant without having ADHD.

Students at Central Washington University are no exception. Although campus health centers have no hard statistics regarding the number of students using the drug, it’s not a big secret that it’s happening.

Katie rifled through her backpack looking for the plastic baggie holding the two small, light blue pills. She broke the capsules apart and dumped the insides under her tongue, a trick she had learned to put the pills into effect faster.

“Adderall became a study tool for me,” Katie said. “But I don’t think it has addictive qualities, not for me at least.”

Katie said she’s taken the drug more than 20 times in the past couple years.

“Adderall and other ADHD drugs are pure psycho stimulants,” said Randy Robinette, senior director at the medical and counseling clinic at Central. “This means the body uptakes them very quickly, and they have the potential to be addictive.”

In order to get the “magic pill,” students are turning to fellow classmates. Parker, a senior at Central, was prescribed Adderall when he was 8 years old.

“I would bounce off the walls and not be able to focus on anything,” Parker said. “Then my doctor diagnosed me with ADHD and I got on medication.”

As a child, Parker felt different when he had to swallow a daily regimen of pills just to go to school. In college, having access to this prescription drug made him somewhat of a commodity.

At first, it was just Parker’s friends asking to buy Adderall from him, but as the school year progressed, Parker was bombarded by phone calls and texts from random students, asking to buy his medication.

“At first, I thought it might be a good way to make some extra money, but I didn’t want to risk selling any sort of pills to people I didn’t know,” Parker said.

Parker began ignoring requests from strangers, and told his friends he wasn’t comfortable giving them his prescription drugs.

Students like Katie and Parker differ in their motivation to use Adderall. For Parker, it’s part of his every day routine and necessary for his health. For Katie, it’s a way for her to stay up all night studying, even if she does feel like a zombie the next day.

In most cases, the negative side effects associated with Adderall are not drastic enough to make students not want to take the pills.

The most common side effects include insomnia, loss of appetite, nervousness, feeling annoyed or angry and a false sense of well being.

“If I take too much I feel sick, like a really bad belly ache, and nothing sounds appetizing,” said Britani, a sophomore at Central who also wishes to remain anonymous.

Even though she experiences side effects, Britani said she has taken Adderall at least four times. She continues to feel sick after taking the drug, but said the benefits the pills provide, such as more energy and being able to focus, are worth the risk.

These might seem like nothing more than the price a student has to pay in order to succeed in a very competitive world, but like any drug, Adderall has the potential to be extremely dangerous.

James Merrill specializes in family practice and said he is always cautious when prescribing Adderall to teenagers and young adults.

“A lot of students in high school and college are coming to me to get a prescription, and a lot of times, it’s for the wrong reasons,” Merrill said.

Merrill has received requests from students for Adderall when they are not diagnosed with ADHD Many students are coming to him because they belive they need the drug to stay focused and study, he said.

Young women have also found a new use for the “miracle drug.”

“Adderall can cause a loss of appetite, and extreme weight loss,” Merrill said. “Women and teenage girls are now using the drug to lose weight.”

Merrill said, as a family doctor, this is extremely worrisome for him. Taking Adderall to study is detrimental to students’ health, he said. And if women are taking the drug to help them lose weight, they can develop a serious eating disorder.

Adderall has the potential to cause high blood pressure and an increased heart rate, which creates a higher risk for cardiac arrest. It can also change the structure and function of the brain, according to Robinette.

“If you want to flirt with a cardiac event, if you want to flirt with addiction, or if you want to flirt with changing the function of your brain, stimulants such as Adderall are the way to do it,” Robinette said.

In the most extreme cases, Adderall has been associated with students committing suicide. The New York Times’ February 2013 article, “Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions,” tells the story of college student Richard Fee, who, as a 24-year -old, was prescribed Adderall for ADHD by a doctor.

His parents maintained that Richard did not have ADHD, and that he was becoming addicted to the drug. According to the article, Richard became violently delusional and spent a week in a psychiatric hospital. But he met with his doctor and was still able to receive 90 more days of his prescription.

Two weeks after his prescription  expired, Richard hung himself in his bedroom closet.

“This is a very extreme and rare case, but like any abused drug, Adderall can cause sudden death and even suicide,” Merrill said. “It contains amphetamine, which is also present in meth.”

If students at Central believe they are struggling with Adderall addiction or abuse, there are places they can turn to for help. Student Medical and Counseling Clinic is located close to campus and provides students with medical staff and on-site counselors.

Students can also visit the Wellness Center located on campus, if they feel they need help.

“We work on promoting positive, healthy behavior and discuss the consequences of high risk behaviors,” said Alice Bowman, Wellness Center health educator.

Students will be guided in the right steps to take in order to help with any issues, and all information provided is kept completely confidential.

“We want students to feel like they can come to us without risking getting in trouble,” said Andrea Easlick, Wellness Center health educator.

The lasting negative effects of Adderall can drastically alter the body, and could be the difference between life and death.

“It’s a very dangerous and serious matter,” Merrill said. “Young people have so much to look forward to, and Adderall can greatly damage their future.”