Colleges Clamp Down on ADHD Drugs

By Sarah Beller 05/01/13

Rampant abuse of "study drugs" drives many colleges to adopt stricter policies. Students tell The Fix they doubt much will change.

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"The only way to finish homework"
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Abuse of ADHD meds has long been so rampant on college campuses that many colleges and universities are now clamping down hard on their prescriptions, The New York Times reports. Studies show that up to 35% of college students take non-prescribed stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse to help them focus and get more work done during finals. The first definition for Adderall in Urban Dictionary is: "The only way to finish homework." Colleges like University of Alabama, Marist College and Fresno State now require students who are prescribed ADHD meds to sign contracts promising not to misuse pills or share them. At Marquette University, clinicians may phone students' parents to get medical histories and confirm symptoms. Some colleges, like George Mason and William and Mary, now forbid school clinicians from prescribing stimulants entirely, instead referring students to off-campus providers; the University of Vermont won't even test students for ADHD“We get complaints that you’re making it hard to get treatment,” says Dr. Jon Porter, director of medical, counseling and psychiatry services at UVM. “There’s some truth to that. The counterweight is these prescriptions can be abused at a high rate, and we’re not willing to be a part of that and end up with kids sick or dead.”

recent Yale graduate, Dara, tells The Fix that "everyone" on campus uses Adderall as a "study drug" to boost concentration and grades, and it gets "passed around like candy." The blue pills are so commonly crushed and snorted that she would often see "people walking around with blue snot dripping from their noses." Abuse of stimulants, which are illegal without a prescription, can lead to anxiety, depression and even psychosis. And in addition to the health concerns, it can get colleges into legal trouble. Harvard is currently being sued for medical malpractice by the father of Johnny Edwards, who committed suicide in 2007, six months after Harvard health services diagnosed him with ADHD and prescribed Adderall after a single examination.

Still, the new limitations have riled ADHD advocacy groups, who argue that the policy changes "create a culture of fear and stigma" around the disorder. Ruth Hughes, the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, claims that the rules are discriminatory, and schools who limit ADHD meds should also limit painkillers and other potentially abused medications. She adds that out-sourcing prescriptions fails to address the problem: "If a university is very concerned about stimulant abuse, I would think the worst thing they could do is to relinquish this responsibility to unknown community practitioners." Many college kids, grown accustomed to easy access to these drugs, are also displeased by the changes; and some don't believe the new policies will be effective. "I dont think the new rules would stop me [from selling Adderall]" one anonymous student from Clark University tells The Fix. "I'm already doing something I'm not supposed to do, and people are always asking for it. I don't think that would change."

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.