Student prescription drug abuse: not what the doctor ordered



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Around this time every year, sleepless nights and approaching deadlines drive students to desperate means trying to finish out the semester without sacrificing their academic performance. Some students turn to prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin or Concerta to help them stay awake and focused during long study sessions.

Many think that because these medications come from legitimate sources, they are completely harmless, aren’t really drugs and there is no need to worry about negative consequences.

These perceptions could not be more wrong. Studies show that students who misuse prescription drugs, such as stimulants in college, are five times more likely to be arrested on drug-related charges later in life. Drug overdose is our nation’s second leading cause of accidental death. Additionally, selling controlled substances, such as prescription stimulants, is a felony offense in Kentucky, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But are these statistics even relevant to popping just one Adderall to study for an exam or finish a paper? Absolutely.

Prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD are considered Schedule II controlled substances, which includes the most addictive drugs of all medication that can be legally prescribed. Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, morphine and oxycodone, the painkiller in Oxycontin and Percocet.

The active ingredient in Adderall, amphetamine, is almost chemically identical to the illegal drug methamphetamine. It changes the function of brain cell transporters, resulting in higher levels of the chemical messengers dopamine and norepinephrine. These, in turn, produce increased attention span and less impulsiveness for children and adults diagnosed with ADHD.

When people without ADHD take prescription stimulants, different effects can also occur. These drugs are widely known for their properties of increasing arousal and thinking ability, but they can also cause anorexia, insomnia, hypertension, seizures and cardiovascular events, possibly leading to death. After a short period of time, prescription stimulants can produce tolerance and dependence, which create a slippery slope that can easily lead to drug addiction.

It is important to remember that these medications can be safe if used properly, as directed by a doctor. Many people have been successfully treated with prescription stimulants, enabling them to be productive members of society. However, the occasional misuse of these drugs as study aids in college can have serious long-term effects.

So the next time you’re pulling an all-nighter at Willy T., think twice about swallowing those colorful, spotted capsules. There are much safer ways of getting your work done on time, like coffee. Or not procrastinating. But when it comes to drugs like Adderall, consider the facts, make an informed decision, and help promote a healthier university community.