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Adderall: Focus-enhancing drug used illegally on campus

03/04/2014
Dave Gershgorn
The Penn Staff

Names of some sources have been changed due to the illicit nature of the subject. 

On campuses across the nation, students are using a drug they say helps them focus, helps them lose weight and brings up their GPA.

That drug is Adderall.

And Indiana University of Pennsylvania is no different.

Out of 199 responses to a Qualtrics survey distributed to IUP students by The Penn on Feb. 25, 29 percent said they have taken Adderall without a prescription.

This compares to 6.4 percent of full-time U.S. college students between the ages of 18 and 22, according to samhsa. gov.

Charlie is a senior management student at IUP who uses Adderall without a prescription. Adderall is classified as an amphetamine and is prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and narcolepsy.

He takes the drug every two weeks, around exam times, in order to facilitate his studying and writing.

“I’ll take two; I usually get the capsules,” he said in a Feb. 20 interview. “I’ll break one of the capsules open and dump it on my tongue, so there’s none of this slow-release crap – just straight to the dome.”

Adderall is classified as a stimulant that increases focus and mental processing speed and decreases fatigue, according to Ann Sesti, assistant director of IUP’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program.

The drug comes in both an instant-release pill and an extended-release capsule, which last for four to six hours and eight to 10 hours respectively, according to The Carlat Report, a monthly psychiatry journal.

Effects include increased alertness, attention, energy, blood pressure and heart rate. Euphoria may result when taken in higher doses, according to Sesti.

“There’s nothing physical; you don’t get a buzz through your body or anything,” Charlie said. “I’ll realize all of the sudden, ‘Oh, I have to get some work done; I guess I’ll start on it.’ And then I just do the rest of what needs to be done.”

Peter, an IUP senior in communications media, said he started taking Adderall in the spring semester of his sophomore year. He normally uses it once a semester when he is feeling overwhelmed with work, he said in a Feb. 29 interview in Stapleton Library.

“I heard people were doing it and got so much accomplished and did really well on all their stuff,” he said. “So I figured I’d try it once, and the first time I tried it, it was like I could do everything I wanted to.”

Out of the Qualtrics respondents who said they have taken Adderall without a prescription, 82 percent said they got it from a fellow IUP student. Two percent said they have sold Adderall to someone without a prescription before.

Sam, a junior hospitality management major, has been prescribed Adderall for six years after being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Sam sells her medication to about 20 to 25 people, including Charlie and Peter, she said in a March 2 interview.

“If people know you have a prescription, they’re going to ask you for it,” Sam said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal because I don’t sell to anyone who’s not my friend, so I never get in a situation where it’s going to be someone I don’t know, and I get arrested.”

The ramification for selling Adderall is an ungraded felony, the same as selling any other controlled substance, according to Detective Sgt. Anthony J. Clement, 49, of the Indiana Borough Police Department.

“It’s part of the Controlled Substance Act,” Clement said. “It would be the same as selling or providing marijuana, cocaine, heroin, anything else.”

Sam said due to the difficulties of getting prescribed Adderall, she doesn’t think selling her medicine is that big of a deal.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal because I’ve been taking it for so long, and I don’t see any negative side effects with it, unless you’re taking it for the wrong reasons,” Sam said.

One of her customers, Peter, said he sees why she sells it.

“We’re all college students; we’re all broke,” Peter said. “So this source of income is easy. I’m not saying it’s the best, but it’s still something.”

Sam estimated that she makes up to $120 per month selling Adderall.

She also said she won’t sell Adderall to someone if she suspects they will misuse the drug.

“I won’t say no to them, but I won’t sell to them because I know it’s not a good idea,” Sam said. “It is a drug; you do have to use it responsibly.”

Sam said using Adderall to lose weight, combining it with alcohol and staying up for days on end are examples of using Adderall unhealthily.

IUP student also expressed whether they think other students should be using Adderall without a prescription.

“I think students who are not prescribed Adderall should not take it,” said Jordan Wade (sophomore, math education). “There are serious consequences to using these drugs, and if you take it without consulting a doctor, you are putting yourself at risk for the bad effects of this drug. There are plenty of other ways to focus on school work without drugs.”

Of the 29 percent of survey respondents who have taken Adderall without a prescription, 77 percent said they were more likely to take the drug during finals week, and 40 percent with overlap said they were more likely to take it for midterms.

Charlie said he also uses Adderall more frequently during finals week.

“Most times during finals week I have something due every day, so most nights I’ll take 30-50 milligrams and then do all the work I needed,” he said. “Then I’ll sleep three hours a day or so for that whole week, mainly because I have enough ‘addy’ in my system to stay awake.”

These kinds of binges, staying up days at a time, are not unusual for recreational Adderall users.

Twelve out of the 56 respondents who said they have taken Adderall without a prescription said they have binged on Adderall. Seven of 12 mentioned finals week specifically.

One respondent said they take Adderall during finals week to help with the overload of information.

“With the pressures of doing well on finals, Adderall seems to be the most logical decision,” said the 19-year-old sophomore, a student of the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology.

Another survey respondent, who binged during finals week, experienced negative side effects to the drug.

“It was finals week, and as soon as I felt my energy decrease, I would take another. Seventy-two hours later I started hallucinating and passed out,” said the respondent, a 21-year-old junior also in the Eberly College of Business.

This “binge crash,” heavy sleeping after a sustained period of time spentawake, is a withdrawal symptom and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as depression and extreme hunger and fatigue, according to Sesti.

Even those prescribed Adderall experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those described by Sesti if they occasionally choose not to take the medication.

Madison Dietz (senior, marketing) was first prescribed Adderall eight years ago after being diagnosed with ADHD. She takes her medication five to six days a week, usually skipping doses on weekends.

When she first started taking the drug in high school, her GPA rose from a 2.0 to 3.5. When she doesn’t take it, she said she feels exhausted and hungry.

“If you take it every day and then you don’t take it, you feel the opposite effect,” Dietz said. “The come-down is pretty miserable.”

Peter felt the effects of Adderall withdrawal after taking an instant-release pill, which lasts considerably shorter than the extended-release capsules.

“It was around 2 o’clock, I was just drained,” Peter said. “I couldn’t do anything, and I still had so much to do. I was chugging energy drinks, and I couldn’t stay awake.”

Some of the negative effects of Adderall are heightened anxiety and heart irregularities, according to David M. Myers, a psychologist specializing in drugs and alcohol counseling at IUP’s Counseling Center.

“People don’t become dependent on [Adderall] the way we think of,” he said. “Students will abuse the drug but will not become dependent on it like we see with opiates or heroin.”

Due to the potential for misuse of Adderall on campus, the health center neither prescribes nor fills prescriptions of the focus-enhancing drug, according to Elizabeth Houser, a nursing practitioner at IUP’s health center.

Seven percent of survey respondents currently have a prescription for Adderall.

When Dietz entered college, her dosage was decreased from 30 mg to 20 mg, and she said it resulted in constant fatigue and scattered thoughts.

“I couldn’t focus at all – my mind was all over the place,” Dietz said. “I would start a task and start a different one. I couldn’t finish one thing before I started the other one.”

Dietz said despite the positive effects of the drug, she plans to stop taking Adderall after college.

“I don’t see myself taking it for the rest of my life,” Dietz said.

Peter also said he wouldn’t use Adderall after college, even though he doesn’t have a prescription.

“I don’t even see the point after college. After that, it’s like, ‘Get your life together,’” he said.

Charlie left the possibility of continued use open.

“I’m not sure if I want to use it in my work life,” he said. “If I’m going to some corporate job, I don’t imagine I’ll need it that much.”

While he’s in school, Charlie said he doesn’t think that taking Adderall gives him an unfair advantage over other students.

“I don’t feel at all bad about myself doing this,” Charlie said, “because it works. And so there’s no regret, there’s no remorse or anything. Because it shows consistent results. I’m still on the dean’s list, and I have a hell of a time, the times I’m not doing it. I don’t study that much.”

Meghan McDonald and Charlene Adams also contributed to writing this article.

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