Chances are, if you made it to Penn, you've got something of a competitive streak in you. Clawing for the top, beating your peers in rank and achieving the highest SAT scores seemed the protocol of high school -- but you figured that you'd find solace from this cutthroat environment upon arriving at college, that the competitiveness would fade. Apparently, it hasn't for some.
Work is hard, classes are boring, nights are long and studying is tedious. Mired in midterm season, students find it difficult to balance their classes and extracurriculars and cram for exams the night before, staying focused throughout and absorbing every last sentence they read.
Which is why more and more college students are turning to prescription drugs, namely Adderall, to mitigate the problem.
Adderall, a form of amphetamine, is typically prescribed to children or teenagers to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but it has proliferated throughout college campuses nationwide in the past several years as a study aid and convenient alternative to weaker stimulants like coffee or over-the-counter NoDoz. If they aren't prescribed the medication directly by a physician, it's relatively easy to bum it off a friend, younger sibling, Web site or run-of-the-mill drug dealer.
Some express worry about the competitive advantage Adderall provides users over students who don't take the drug. "It's not fair," argued one of my friends, a Wharton sophomore who is particularly conscious of the bell curve in her classes. "It's the same as taking steroids for sports -- the playing field should be equal for everyone." There really isn't a viable solution, though. The University can't screen every student for drugs before administering an exam; it's a waste of time, effort and resources, and chances are it clashes with some civil liberties, too. Yes, taking Adderall without a prescription is illegal. But consuming alcohol under the age of 21 is also illegal, which would make roughly half the campus just as guilty, thus erasing any moral ground for objection.
The academic aspect is indeed troubling. I can't preach before an audience not to take it. I can't say that anyone who does is going straight to hell, but will be prosecuted first. I'm not that kind of person. It's an individual's choice that affects only him or her. I disagree with bans on cigarette smoking for the same reason; it's bad for you, but who am I to tell you not to do it?
Nonetheless, the fact that rising consumption is slipping under the radar is no small concern. Several universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Vermont and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have witnessed a spike in illegal usage of Adderall in the past few years.
According to Stephanie Ives, director of Alcohol Policy Initiatives at Penn, there is no hard data measuring how many students here use Adderall specifically. In a survey taken from September 2003 through February of this year, 10 percent of the 3,465 undergraduates polled reported taking prescription medication, whether prescribed to them or attained through others, used recreationally or for their intended medical purpose. This also includes all prescription drugs, such as Ritalin, Ketamine, Xanax, OxyContin or Prozac. Ives said that, although there are no specific initiatives on campus geared toward prescription drugs, the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team incorporates drug awareness into its presentations, and Say Something at Penn (saysomethingatpenn.org) encourages students to seek help for their friends who suffer from any form of drug abuse.
Both the Student Health Service and Counseling and Psychological Services will administer Adderall to students they deem in need of it. But SHS Director Evelyn Wiener said a student with a pre-existing prescription for the medication will be re-diagnosed and treated as they see fit, whether with Adderall or an entirely different substance. Wiener was unsure of the severity of the problem at Penn, but conceded that it was growing. "It is a recognized issue," she said. "There is concern."
I consulted a friend of mine who's used the drug to stay awake on various occasions; she does not, however, consider herself to be a regular user. She claims it helps her remain alert and organize her thoughts, as well as improving her performance on exams. "It's helped me stay awake to study and to actually take the test, and I seem to recall information better, ... but that's probably because I'm not exhausted going into the test." When I asked her if she was afraid of long-term effects, she flatly replied, "No."
There is this concern because doctors are still largely unsure of the long-term damage that could develop from the repeated use of Adderall. Medical researchers cite anything from no damage to eventu---al brain damage resulting from regular use, independent of psychological dependencies that could form. Jerry Knast of Penn's Student Disabilities Services says that Adderall taken without the presence of ADHD will cause a psychological dependence, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and nervous ticks -- symptoms that would not occur if the drug was used properly.
This may in fact be a "miracle drug," but it might not be harmless. If you choose to take it, use it well and be productive, at least on my behalf. But in so doing, keep "buyer beware" at the forefront of your overstimulated mind.
Michelle Dubert is a College sophomore from Closter, N.J. Department of Strategery appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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