Sally Engelhart | Drug abusers in denial
Scientifically Blonde | Popping prescription pills can border on drug abuse
January 11, 2012, 11:47 pm · Updated January 13, 2012, 1:01 am·
My friend Mary’s* “Say No to Drugs” attitude would make any mother proud.
While she avoids widely available cocaine and turns down the ever-popular MDMA or “Molly,” Mary will take a Xanax before drinking to reach a more intense drunken state and pop an Adderall before a concert to stay up all night and party.
It’s a prominent perspective held by some Penn students: drugs are bad, but prescription drugs — well they’re FDA-approved, they’re prescribed by a doctor … they’re not that bad.
It’s an argument I hear all the time regarding the growing trend of prescription drug use amongst college students, whether drugs are taken for recreational or self-medicating purposes. But does the fact that these pills are FDA-approved make taking them any different than taking other drugs?
Not really, no. It’s still drug abuse.
I asked one College senior, who wished to remain anonymous, why she took prescription drugs. She explained, “It’s appealing because it has this sense of being FDA-approved and the fact that you swallow it like you would Advil or melatonin takes some of the scariness away.”
I’ll give you this: there are some differences that make taking prescription drugs “safer” than taking street drugs.
For one, if you’re not putting these drugs up your nose you’re doing yourself a favor. Snorting drugs makes them go more directly into your bloodstream (no time spent being broken down in the stomach) making their effects more potent, powerful and immediate — increasing the chance of overdosing and the chance of developing an addiction.
Secondly, when you buy pills from a pharmacy, you generally know what’s in them — as opposed to buying street drugs made in the bathtub of some high school dropout and laced with god knows what.
But in my eyes, popping prescription pills falls under the same category of drug abuse.
Take Ritalin (generically known as methylphenidate). At a molecular level, Ritalin looks and acts almost identically to cocaine. The main difference is that you take Ritalin by mouth, delaying the time between drug ingestion and its effect — making it less addicting.
Consider another Penn favorite, Adderall — a.k.a. Amphetamine salts. It’s right there in the name, amphetamine, as in methamphetamine, as in crystal meth. Believe it or not, tablets of methamphetamine (the same junk that meth users smoke) are actually FDA-approved for extreme cases of ADHD. I think most people would agree that just because meth is FDA-approved, does not make it a-okay to take recreationally.
Just because a drug is FDA-approved doesn’t mean it’s “safe”, and it doesn’t make it any less serious of a drug. Consider this: ketamine (Special K) and PCP (Angel Dust) are both FDA-approved anesthetics.
So it’s not fair to look down your nose at the “delinquents” using street drugs during college if you are essentially moving down the same path. Just because a drug comes from a pharmacy in an orange bottle doesn’t make it inherently different from other drugs.
When it comes to these types of students who see prescription drug use as a separate, safer activity than the use of street drugs, I’ve got some major concerns.
I’m worried that students who choose prescription drugs over street drugs underestimate the potential severity of the associated risks, like overdose and addiction. Whether stimulants like Ritalin, painkillers like Vicodin or sedatives like Xanax and Valium, these kinds of drugs can have serious physiological consequences and a high potential for abuse just like the street drugs cocaine, meth and heroin.
My point is not to condone or condemn drug use among college students, but to highlight the very real risks. Ignorance in regard to the potential consequences of prescription drug use is dangerous.
If you use prescription drugs incorrectly, you are drug user. There are no two ways about it.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual
Sally Engelhart is a College senior from Toronto. Her email address is email@example.com. Scientifically Blonde appears every other Thursday.