The (New) Big Drugs on Campus
The other side of the story
Although few kids with AD/HD misuse their medication, not all are exempt from temptation. Tori, a recent college graduate, took her prescribed Ritalin when she needed to study. "But I used Adderall recreationally," she says. "If I was really tired and I wanted to go partying, it let me stay up later, which I couldn't do with Ritalin."
Tori got her Adderall the same way an estimated 90 percent of those who misuse prescription stimulants do - from a fellow student. One recent survey found that more than half of college students for whom stimulant medications were prescribed had been approached to sell, trade, or give them away. Says Klein, the AD/HD coach, "Usually it's people they know - roommates, friends from study group and campus organizations. In an environment where social relationships are so important, there's a feeling of, 'why shouldn't I help out my friend?'"
For young people who dislike taking medication - as well as those who are trying to convince themselves they don't need it any more - passing their pills on to someone else is "killing two birds with one stone," says Dr. Freeman.
Financial concerns can also be a significant factor. "Students are perennially short of money," says Harold Meyer, head of CHADD's New York City chapter. "I work with a number of kids who have sold their pills to buy video games or eat out."
Voluntarily parting with prescribed stimulants is risky. These are controlled substances, in the same federal regulatory category as morphine and cocaine. To the judicial system, promoting their unauthorized use means trafficking in narcotics. One 19-year-old University of Oregon student found this out the hard way last April, when he was arrested and charged with a felony for selling Adderall that had been prescribed for him.
Even when law enforcement isn't an issue, sharing pills can be dangerous. And youngsters who give away pills that they should be taking for AD/HD may wind up feeling that they no longer need the medication.
"Once you start sharing, you get into the mindset that you need your medication only when studying or taking a test," says Klein. "You start to think, 'these pills aren't working so well anymore.' It's a self-destructive cycle." That's particularly true, of course, when being under-medicated causes AD/HD symptoms to rebound.
News reports often paint a distorted picture of AD/HD medications, exaggerating the risk of addiction and suggesting that horrific side effects are common. AD/HD medications seldom cause side effects beyond insomnia, jitteriness, or loss of appetite. But an article that appeared recently in the University of Oregon's Daily Emerald cited two cases of "amphetamine-induced psychotic disorder." One involved a man who shot and killed his five-year old daughter after taking Ritalin.
The same article quoted a psychiatrist who suggested that "animal studies have clearly shown that drugs like Adderall kill brain cells at routine clinical doses" and that children who are prescribed stimulants are more prone to cocaine abuse as adults. Research flatly contradicts both claims.