Colleges Warn More Students Abusing Stimulants

WASHINGTON — The American University junior never finishes her monthly prescription of instant-release Adderall used to control her ADHD. She says taking the medication daily might result in sleeplessness or the pills losing their effectiveness. So she shares the extras with friends who promise to use it as a study aid, not a party drug. She sells whatever is left to friends of friends for $5 to $10 each.

“I really try to avoid doing it because it makes me feel like a drug dealer,” said the student, who didn’t want her name used because sharing or selling prescription drugs can be a felony and a violation of university policies. If caught, she could get kicked out of school or face jail time, but she doubts that would ever happen.

For more than two decades, college students have illegally taken prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall to stay awake and hyper-focused while studying. As sales of medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder soar, administrators worry that illegal use also is increasing.

The White House Office of Drug Control voiced concern about the increase in its latest strategy report, which promises to introduce policies in the next few years that will target college students and a range of substance abuse issues.

But cracking down on study drugs is nearly impossible, said several college administrators who have worked on the issue as it has gained wider attention in recent years. Students who abuse study drugs don’t reek of marijuana or show the tell-tale signs of excessive drinking. They rarely end up in hospital beds or jail cells.

Study drugs are “kind of a silent issue,” said Daniel Swinton, president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration and an assistant dean at Vanderbilt University. “Everyone’s aware of it, but I think we’re all focused on the more prevalent one — alcohol.”

When misused, prescription stimulants can cause an irregular heart beat, panic attacks and in rare cases death, especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. These prescription medications are similar to cocaine and can be addictive. But experts say there is little evidence of a widespread medical crisis or growing rates of addiction.

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