The (New) Big Drugs on Campus
These distorted reports seem to be discouraging some youngsters with AD/HD to take their medication as prescribed. "The publicity makes kids think more seriously about going off medication," says Michael Sandler, a Fort Collins, Colorado, AD/HD coach. "Some who haven't tried medication decide not to." Says Laurie Dupar, R.N., an AD/HD coach who works with college students, "Because of the bad publicity, some are hesitant to go public with the fact that they have AD/HD, or to receive the most appropriate treatment."
Such reports ignore the crucial difference between taking a drug as prescribed and abusing it. "There's nothing bad about these medications," says Peter Jaksa, Ph.D., president and clinical director of ADD Centers of America in Chicago. "Used properly, they're extremely safe."
Keeping kids on the right track
When it comes to ensuring that your youngster uses his AD/HD medication responsibly, knowledge is power, says Dr. Jaksa. "It's important for kids to understand why they're taking medication, what goes on biologically, and how the drugs work."
If your child takes a short-acting medication, consider speaking with the prescribing doctor about a different form of the medication. Short-acting drugs are easily ground up and snorted - a common and particularly dangerous way to misuse the drug. This is impossible with long-acting products like Concerta, says Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York. In fact, a recent study by Harvard psychiatrist Timothy E. Wilens, M.D., found that "diversion and misuse [of AD/HD medications] occurred with intermediate-acting formulations and that none occurred with extended-release formulations."
Here's what else parents can do:
- Make sure your child understands the risks. In the eyes of the law, even giving away Ritalin or Adderall represents "delivery of a controlled substance," a felony. Consequences may range from suspension from school to forfeiture of college loans, fines, and imprisonment.
- Emphasize the risk that stimulants pose when used by someone for whom they were not prescribed. "They may be safe for the majority of people, but for a kid with high blood pressure, a heart condition, or psychiatric problems, they can be quite dangerous," says Meyer, of CHADD.
- Urge your child to keep his diagnosis confidential. "I counsel my patients not to share this information with roommates or others, and advise putting medication in an unlabeled vial, in an inconspicuous place," says Dr. Adesman. "Only my good friends know I have ADD," says Frank, a college senior. "They wouldn't ask me for it."
- Encourage your child to participate in a support group. Getting together with others who have AD/HD helps your child recognize that medication must be used responsibly. "Contact the college's disability center, health center, or counseling center ahead of time, if possible," says Klein. They can steer students to support groups.
- Rehearse "refusal" scenarios, in which your child describes her disorder and explains why she is unwilling to share her medication. "Humor helps," says Klein, who has AD/HD. "If someone were to ask for my pills, I might say, 'Okay. Can I have one of your contact lenses?'" She adds that it helps to keep a relatively small quantity of pills on hand. "That way you can claim honestly, 'I'm almost out, and I need what I have.'"