Many students will turn to Starbucks for caffeine-rich coffee to help them stay focused and awake while studying for finals. However, some find that caffeine is not strong enough for them, and certain students will ingest medications prescribed to people with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactive disorder, known respectively as ADD and ADHD.
The most commonly prescribed of these medications are Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. These drugs are stimulants that target the central nervous system and show a wide range of effects on users. Students seek them because the stimulants are known to prevent drowsiness and enhance a user’s ability to concentrate.
“It opens a whole new door to my thinking process,” said Christopher Bentler, a senior who takes Adderall before long study sessions. “Somehow it lets me look at things in a different light.”
Bentler is not alone in his non-traditional study habits.
“Everybody takes it,” said Melanie Weinstein, a freshmen living in Hecht. “It’s very common in the dorms.”
Weinstein, unlike many of the drug users she is referring to in Hecht, is actually prescribed to an ADD medication known as Focalin, a newer drug that is less strong than the prevalent drugs on the market.
Following the prescription of her psychiatrist, Weinstein was taking one pill “whenever [she]needed to pay attention to something” for a few months when she developed adverse reactions to the drug.
“Two hours after I would take it I would suddenly get really depressed,” Weinstein said. “It was so horrible that I stopped using it permanently.”
Despite the positive side effects-she claims that at times Focalin dramatically improved her ability to focus-Weinstein’s overall experience leaves her affirming that ADD and ADHD drugs are “never safe,” because “you never know what they will do your body.”
It’s possible that Weinstein’s bad reaction could have been much worse. This past February, Canada indefinitely suspended all sales of Adderall after receiving a report that 20 sudden deaths have occurred in the U.S. since 1999 among persons who were taking the drug. The FDA has no plans to change the status of the drug in the U.S., as it concludes that there is no decisive evidence to prove that Adderall was the cause of these deaths.
The debate over the safety of Adderall and other ADD and ADHD medications is not new. Psychiatrist Daniel Amem writes in his book Healing ADD that “stimulant medications are among the safest and most effective medications in psychiatry…with little potential for abuse.”
On the other hand, Dr. Malcolm Kahn, director of Psychology at the Counseling Center, strongly disagrees with Dr. Amem’s viewpoint. He refers to the commonly prescribed stimulants as “powerful drugs” and “absolutely unsafe” to take without prescription. Even with a doctor’s prescription, Dr. Kahn believes that “a whole list of medical problems can arise from taking the drug.”
In an informal survey taken in his abnormal psychology class, Dr. Kahn claims that students reported these drugs to be “readily available on campus,” corroborating Weinstein’s thoughts. He also stated that students in his class have admitted to procuring the pills “for partying.”
Despite reported deaths and other adverse effects, it seems students will continue to use these drugs, though not necessarily because they are uninformed.
“I’ve seen the downside,” Bentler said. “I’ve seen people get addicted to Adderall and stop being able to function without it.”
However, he said this knowledge would not stop his own usage, because he was careful, and because “there’s just nothing like it.”
Dave Maggiotto can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.