Students look to Adderall to focus on finals
By: Caroline Page
Posted: 12/12/07It is the dreaded scenario for a college student: multiple finals and papers crammed into several days and not enough time to complete everything. The task of writing the papers and acing finals is enough to bring a student to a near breaking point.
In order to cope, students are trading in a cup of joe for the prescription drug Adderall. Instead of relying purely on caffeine or energy drinks, University students are illicitly taking the stimulant to stay awake and focused for lengthy periods of time.
Adderall is a mixed amphetamine salt, which works on the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways in the frontal lobe, said Dr. Jenny Peloquen, a local board certified psychiatrist. The dopamine in front of the brain helps people focus and norepinephrine helps people ignore extraneous stimuli and perform executive functions.
Students show concern
Adderall is commonly prescribed to individuals who suffer from attention deficit disorders in order to help them focus and do daily tasks, Peloquen said.
A regular dose of the drug lasts about four hours and the extended release stays in someone's system for eight to 12 hours, Peloquen said.
A UT student, who wished to remain anonymous for legal reasons, is prescribed Adderall, but said he has given out pills to friends and other students since he began college.
He said Adderall usage spreads because people who do not need it hear about the people who take it, so they think they need it too.
"I've talked to people who take it at night and can stay up much later and drink more," he said. "I've talked to people who take it to clean their apartment, take it in the morning to wake up."
He said he does not see a danger in people who are not prescribed Adderall taking it, except for possible addiction. If someone asks his advice on how much or when to take it, he said he will help them, but otherwise it is their decision on how to take it.
Undeclared liberal arts sophomore Angela Zatopek said she knows someone who lies to their doctor to get prescribed extra Adderall to sell to other students.
Adderall takes about 30 to 45 minutes to kick in and reach its full affect, so some students break up the pills and snort it so it will work faster, sources said. Others cut the pills in half to mitigate the strength.
"I had four finals in a span of two days and had a lot of other stuff going on at the time, so I took half of one [Adderall]," said Zatopek. "My friend told me it would help me concentrate."
Highly effective in some cases
In a 2006 Northwestern University study on the "Illicit use of Prescription Stimulants Among College Students," more than 75 percent of college students who reported using prescription stimulants also reported that they chose amphetamine-dextroamphetamine products - like Adderall - over methylphenidate products such as Ritalin.
A similar study examined a group of students familiar with drug use who said, "Adderall was used more on their campus due to its availability and lower occurrence of 'ups and downs,'" according to reports in the Northwestern study.
But Peloquen said when someone who is not diagnosed with ADD or ADHD takes Adderall, he or she may not know what dosage they are getting and may could become angry or rageful.
"Clinicians who prescribe stimulant drugs to their patients carry the responsibility of weighing the benefits and risks of these agents," according to the Northwestern study. "Prescription stimulants are highly effective for treating ADHD and other conditions. However, if they are used without appropriate therapeutic monitoring and management, dangerous health consequences can occur."
May cause sudden death
According to the Food and Drug Administration's medication guide, Adderall has been reported to cause sudden death in patients who have heart problems or heart defects, stroke and heart attack in adults and increased blood pressure and heart rate.
"It can unmask a cardiac arrythymia," Peloquen said. "If someone has some cardiac anomaly they don't know about, they can get heart arrythmyia and die. If people don't know these things, it could be lethal."
A student could take it and do fine on 5 milligrams, but on a higher dose they might not know how they could react, she said.
"It helped, but it made my heart race, and I didn't like what it did," Zatopek said. "Yeah, it made me concentrate, but I didn't like the way it made me feel."
Some people use marijuana to calm themselves down and Adderall to hype themselves up, Peloquen said.
"Drug users have shifted away from using illicit drugs and toward abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in an article for the Journal of American Medical Association. "There is an erroneous belief that because these are medicines, whether prescribed by physicians or over the counter, that they are safer."
Adderall can be abused, but it is not habit forming, Peloquen said.
Some people buy Adderall across the border or from Internet services, which are not reliable sources, Peloquen said.
In February 2005, the marketing and distribution of Adderall was banned in Canada because of concerns about reports of sudden unexplained deaths in children, according to the FDA. However, it was put back on the market about six months later.
Competition in college is fierce now, and there is an extremely bright crowd at UT, Peloquen said.
"Education is important to them. So is education about everything that they're putting in their body," she said. "Everything has an equal and opposite effect; it might be okay one time or the next time. If you're not up to date on health and blood pressure, it can be dangerous."
Illicit use could land you in jail
Corporate communications senior Jared Zirkle said his doctor told him it would be a big deal if he gave it to his friends or sold it because it is a controlled substance and an individual could get arrested for having it without a prescription. He said students somehow get their hands on Adderall.
"To be honest, I don't think it is a huge problem," said government junior Michael McKissack. "I don't think it's as widespread as other things on campus - alcohol and drug abuse."
The best thing for college students to practice is structure and routine, Peloquen said, even people with ADD.
"It's not a magic pill that makes people smarter or study more," she said. "It's a stimulant."
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