It’s 3 a.m. and the term paper due the next day is only half finished. Even worse, you still have to study for a mid-term scheduled early next morning. It seems there just aren’t enough hours in the day … unless.
Faced with the pressures of college, working part-time jobs and maintaining an active social life, a large number of students are turning to prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin to combat lack of sleep, boost concentration levels and possibly raise their grades.
Recent research by the University of Wisconsin found that up to 20 percent of students had used these drugs without a prescription. Half of the students surveyed said they knew of someone who either sold or gave away the medication, which is prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit disorders.
Members of the medical profession hope that a new movie will thrust the problem of prescription drug abuse into the spotlight. Members of Congress and Hollywood stars in Washington attended a private screening of the film on Friday.
The movie, The Chumscrubber, is produced by Lawrence Bender, whose other films include Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill.
The movie depicts a group of suburban kids who start using prescription drugs. It shows how their lack of communication with their parents exacerbates the problem.
Local Florida state representative and USF alumna Faye Culp, who attended the screening, said the problem is not a new one.
“We did the same kind of thing; kids would use it to stay up and study before a test or a big exam, that’s what most people did,” Culp said.
But Culp said the movie should act as a wakeup call for parents who don’t always make time to listen to their children’s problems.
“I think I was pretty good, but there were times when I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear about that,'” Culp said.
While there is some debate about how widespread the abuse of drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin is, there is a consensus on the potential harm the drugs can do.
“These are serious stimulant drugs,” Linda Chamberlin, coordinator for the Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at USF, said. “Things like elevated blood pressure and, on some occasions, increased aggression, cardiac arrhythmia, all the things you get with major stimulants are certainly potential side-effects … as far as abuse of them, that’s certainly been increasing over the last five years and somewhat over the last 10 years as more of them have been prescribed.”
Chamberlin’s concerns are shared by Robin Read, president and CEO for the National Foundation for Women Legislators, Robin Read. In a news statement, Read said female politicians have been looking at the issue ever since the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration warned legislators two years ago that the prevalence of prescription drug abuse is second only to use of marijuana.
According to The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, nearly two million teenagers said they had abused drugs without a prescription.
Adderall and Ritalin are typically prescribed for attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
By claiming to have ADD or ADHD, young people have become part of a growing trend in which prescription stimulants are easily obtained.
“Attention Deficit Disorder is one of the newest disorders that people feel like they have,” said Martha Brown, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the division of addiction in the department of psychiatry. “Like a bunch of people come in and say they can’t concentrate; well you must have attention deficit disorder, here’s a prescription for Ritalin.”
According to Chamberlin, approximately four to six percent of people in the United States have been diagnosed with ADD.
“Over the years a lot of college students go to their general practitioner or family doctor and say, ‘I was really hyper as a child and I can’t think now and maybe my parents could have had me on Ritalin. Even if I don’t have the symptoms now, I could convince the doctor to give me that prescription,'” Brown said.
At USF, physicians have heard several requests from students who thought they needed the medicine.
“We have physicians on our staff here in the Counseling Center, and we’ve certainly discussed concerns about that,” Chamberlin said. “We occasionally have had students come in who are concerned that they might have attention deficit disorder, never been diagnosed, and are sometimes pretty open, sometimes maybe a little more secretive, but one of the things they are seeking is medications for that.”
According to psychiatrist Phyllis Feldman, when a student comes into the Counseling Center, physicians check for a documented disorder, a psychological evaluation and the existence of previous diagnoses.
“We’re more hesitant to give these medicines than a lot of primary care doctors,” she said. “Frequently when we see difficulty concentrating, it’s not a matter of attention deficit disorder. It’s often the result of anxiety or depression or adjustment reaction to being away from home for the first time … so unless there is really ADD we don’t give the medicine.”
Nevertheless, the stimulants can be purchased on the Internet.
“You can get almost anything over the Internet,” Brown said. “I will tell you that many state medical boards across the nation are trying to track down and crack down on the physicians who are ultimately putting their names in these bogus patient files out there.”
Brown said that Florida’s method of keeping medical records makes it more difficult to closely identify when a single doctor is giving out multiple prescriptions.
“One of the things that we don’t do here in Florida is that we don’t keep logs of the numbers of drugs that doctors are prescribing,” Brown said. “Florida’s not necessarily one of those states that keeps stats or detailed records.”
Students who are caught with these drugs without a prescription face heavy consequences. Possession of drugs without a valid prescription is a felony.
According to Chamberlin, the consequences do not end there.
“(It) can be grounds for them being dismissed from the University,” she said. “Some programs like nursing, counseling education and education programs will do screenings for internships or placements. Having a felony on your record essentially means you’re not going to be able to complete that program.”