Many of us remember how easy it once was for kids to get an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) diagnosis and a resulting prescription. According to the USF director of student counseling, psychologist Barbara Thomas, “There was a time when schools were recommending and diagnosing every young boy who was active as having ADD. I think we did have a period of over-prescription. I don’t think it resulted in any particular tragedies, but it changes people’s body chemistry.”
Over-prescription is hardly an issue to take lightly, but the situation worsened when everyone realized the positive effects of Adderall-as a psychostimulant. The drug forces the mind to focus and stay awake far longer than it normally would. Abuse inevitably began, not by people chasing the dragon, but chasing the midterm. One student in particular says that “Adderall is a godsend; I don’t know how I could get through English or architecture without it. I have to stay up all night and it really helps me.”
This trend, claims Barbara Thomas, began as early as the 1990s. “I’d say you saw more about it in the press in 2001, where the stats jumped from 200 emergency visits a year to in the thousands.” Since then, people have realized that the drug can also be smoked or snorted. The side effects for Adderall abusers are not pretty. “The mild effects are that the person stays up all night,” said Thomas. “The effects that people end up in the hospital for are seizures. People canhave a stroke after just a few uses if they are really abusing it heavily.”
But say that one only splurges at crunch times and swears it off once finals are over. Like many drugs, Adderall can come back to bite years down the line. Blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes are just a few of the long-term effects. Also, there is the inherent danger that one could turn to similar, more powerful drugs such as speed or cocaine.
Adderall abuse occurs in universities across America, including USF. “It’s pretty plentiful,” said Thomas. “Students do not infrequently mention that Adderall is available in resident halls and that they see it crop up around midterms and finals.” Freshman Luke Hendrickson said, “At Reed College, where a friend of mine is, the drug of choice is Adderall. [The students] complain that the library closes too early, because they can’t get all their work done. Then they turn to Adderall.” Exact statistics for USF are not available because much of what counselors know is anecdotal.
The more enterprising youth, often prescription users themselves, have realized they can make a profit. An anonymous freshman female knows someone who does this. “She sells it to this kid who abuses it to the point where he takes fifteen times the recommended dose. He can kill himself and my friend acts like it’s no big deal. It really bugs me, especially because her parents are paying for it.” This freshman, who has also been prescribed Adderall, cannot see why people clamor for it. “It makes you really, really speedy for a few hours, and then you can’t focus.” However, she admits that without it, “I forget important dates, like paying my credit card. People will tell me stuff and I’ll forget it twenty minutes later.”
Meanwhile, some non-users scoff at the Adderall craze, such as sophomore Justin Bauer. “I think it’s lame because I don’t believe in the idea of ADD. I think we have to be in control of our own hyperness. ADD is just an excuse for little kids to start taking drugs and then they end up enjoying recreational drugs later in life.” Another student added, “All my friends who have taken Adderall to stay up to study all regretted it in the morning.”
Luckily, Adderall is not quite as addictive as crack or heroin. Rehab facilities exist, but education about the negative side effects is usually enough to reduce or eliminate the use. “The folks who would need longer treatment are most likely polysubstance users that probably use anything they can get their hands or noses on,” explained Thomas.
Doctors have also slowed down the rapid-fire Adderall prescriptions. “There are a lot more cautions being taken, certainly within the psychiatry profession,” says Thomas. “A student I worked with last year definitely had a diagnosis of ADD – she had gone through all the testing. An Adderall prescription was appropriate for her; however, she also binge drank. She went to two different psychiatrists, both of whom saw the lethality in that combination and weren’t willing to prescribe it to her. She did, however, report to me that she wasn’t that upset because she could score it off the street any time she wanted it.”
Adderall abuse is very real and shows no sign of stopping. At the same time, even people who are on prescription Adderall do not magically lead lives of academic ecstasy. One prescription user in particular said, “It’s kind of like an assembly line. Productivity increases dramatically, but at the cost of creativity. I really hate the stuff.”