Study Drugs: Students Turn to ADHD Medicine for Academic Boost

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Chemistry, intramural softball, part-time jobs -- college students have a lot weighing down on their shoulders these days. Instead of using coffee or energy drinks, some are turning to prescription drugs to help keep them focused in the library.

WHNT News 19 spoke with a student who didn't want to be identified because she illegally obtains the medication, but what she had to say was very revealing.

"My major is bio medical science which is a path to pre-med," the student said. She's a smart girl, a Huntsville native and a sophomore at Auburn University with high hopes of attending medical school.

"Next January I'll be taking the MCAT."

She said she's a B-average student. She takes challenging courses like organic chemistry and physics.  "Definitely organic and physics are the most time-consuming and difficult. I took my organic test last week which is why I was in the library for 24 hours."

For those big tests, caffeine won't do the trick for her. Instead, she turns to her roommate's medicine cabinet.  "You've told me that you take Adderall. Is that right?" WHNT News 19's Megan Hayes asked her.  "Yes, I have," the student replied.

"How many times have you taken Adderall?" asked Megan. "Probably 10 times or so," the student answered.

She said she takes the drug once or twice a month. Without Adderall, she said she can't focus in the library. "I 'people watch' a lot but when I am on Adderall, I can work for at least 45 minutes to an hour, take a break, and get back into it."

She said she's not alone. "Almost everyone I know, I could count less one hand that don't or haven't before." It gives students more energy than a cup of coffee, it keeps them focused so they can keep studying throughout the night, but it could land them a trip to the emergency room.

"The majority of the drug's use is for ADHD, occasionally it's used off-label for things like narcolepsy," said Amanda Williams, a pharmacist for the Pediatric Emergency Department at Huntsville Hospital. Williams said students are using ADHD medications like Adderall, Focalin, and Ritalin to enhance their performance in the classroom now more than ever before.

"It literally can make them able to stare at a book for hours on end, it keeps them from falling asleep so they can stay awake and be focused all hours throughout the night when normally they would have passed out hours ago," said Williams.

Even if they get an 'A' on their test, parts of their body could be failing because of the study aid. "The patients that take these medications may see an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and you can also have some psychiatric type side effects as well," said Williams.

"These drugs act very similar to cocaine in your body," Williams said.

Patients who are prescribed have been evaluated by a physician. Those obtaining it illegally have not, though -- and that's crucial.

"They could have an underlying cardiac disorder that no one knows about," said Williams. "They could have an underlying psychiatric disorder.  These medications can certainly exacerbate both of those conditions."

Williams said not every ADHD patient takes the same dose. Their doctor determines the time of day the patient needs it most and how much they need of it.

"Do you know what dosage you usually take or you just kinda take whatever you can find?" we asked the student.

"I usually take about 15 or if I take a 20, I'll split it in half and half it through the day," she replied.

Williams attributed the stimulant abuse to the chaotic lifestyle most college students live every day and possibly even a need to please their parents.

"There's a lot of life pressure and pressure from parents that's placed on students that I don't think we always take into account," Williams said.

Note: If your child is prescribed to an ADHD medication, we aren't saying you should take them off of it. However, education is key. It's important to know the risks of taking these drugs without a prescription.  Parents should know what signs to look for if they think their child is taking the drugs illegally -- before it opens the door to further substance abuse.

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