Adderall: Students Turn to Their “Study-Buddy” During Finals

As the semester draws to an end and final exams reach mid-swing, a little known black market is in full tilt. For those with prescriptions for Adderall and drugs like it, business is booming.

Adderall is a psychostimulant prescription drug belonging to the phenethylamine and amphetamine classes. It is used to aid those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Introduced by Shire Pharmaceuticals in 1996, Adderall has become one of the most prevalent medications for people suffering from ADHD.

There is a growing black market for this controlled substance among college level students. In 2006, a survey of 1,811 college students conducted by the Journal of American College Health revealed that 4.1 percent of university students reported having a prescription for an ADHD medication and 34 percent had used these medications illegally. The survey shows 71 percent of those who had taken ADHD medications illegally did so with the intention of using them as a study aid.

Penn State University professor of sociology Phil Kavanaugh, an expert in illegal drugs, drug involved subcultures and drug trends, said, “Drug fads come and go, and this has been the case throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Prescription drug abuse started increasing in the 1990s and through the 2000s. Adderall is just the latest manifestation of this trend. It was Ritalin in the 1990s.”

Shepherd University is no exception. Out of 10 students randomly selected for interview, two students admitted to having prescriptions for ADHD medications, seven reported illegal purchase and use, and only one claimed to have never used them.

According to Kavanaugh, however, this should come as no surprise.

Kavanaugh said, “There are regional variations in drug trends. Although misuse of prescription drugs is indeed a national phenomenon, rates of prescription drug abuse, diversion and overdose deaths appear in higher frequency in Appalachia and, in particular, economically distressed counties than anywhere else in the nation.”

Shepherd University is geographically located in proximity to a hotspot of prescription drug use. It may come as no surprise that obtaining ADHD medications such as Adderall, Dexedrine, Concerta and Ritalin illegally on the Shepherd University campus is apparently quite easy. The going rate for the illegal purchase of ADHD medications can be anywhere between $5 and $25 per pill depending on the time of year. Midterms and finals are the prime time for inflated prices.

In some cases, obtaining these medications can be a simple matter of being friends with someone that has a prescription.

A junior in the environmental science department said, “Getting it is amazingly easy. Most of the time, I just ask some friends. Usually, I don’t even pay for it.”

Looking at the opposite side of the equation, those who distribute their prescriptions illegally seem to have no qualms or moral dilemmas in doing so. One student, also a junior in the environmental science department, has had a prescription for Adderall since his freshman year of college. Under the guarantee of anonymity, he readily admitted to selling his prescription medication.

He said, “The main reason people take it is to work more efficiently, especially during exams. I am helping them. Whenever I overhear someone talking about having to do a lot of school work or cram for a test, I offer to supply them with some Adderall. I just sold a girl some this morning for a couple cigarettes.”

The environmental science student additionally said, “Also, if I am running low on cash, I will sell it because it costs me $5 to fill the prescription, and I can sell them for $5 a pill. I have never finished a prescription by myself.”

Although the predominant use of illegally obtained Adderall is study related rather than recreational, the question of deviant behavior in its illegal use remains.

Concerning this matter, Kavanaugh said, “I would hesitate to say that this can be said to lead to ‘deviant’ behavior; however, it does likely have a functional utility in that students can blow off most of their semester, abuse alcohol and engage in other forms of leisure, risky or otherwise, and then take Adderall to force themselves to interact with their course material in a condensed amount of time.”

There is no link to Adderall leading to other forms of “risky” behavior. There is still a clear correlation between the illegal use of Adderall and other forms of illicit behavior. A 2005 survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center reported that illegal users of Adderall are 10 times more likely to report marijuana use. They are almost seven times more likely to report frequent binge drinking. They are over 20 times more likely to report cocaine use in the past year.

The use of prescription stimulants does come with a certain amount of its own risk. Drugs such as Adderall are known to have various side effects such as anorexia, insomnia, nervousness, mood swings and increase in heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, these stimulants have a relatively high rate of habit formation.

In regard to Adderall’s adverse effects, a sophomore in the mass communications department said, “I myself have not taken Adderall enough to form a habit of it, but I’ve known several people who have gotten addicted to it. One of my good friends really suffered from his addiction. He lost a lot of weight and when he finally took himself off of it, he became moody and angry for weeks.”

There is still much to be discussed over the rise of the “study-buddy” prescription drugs. Whether the pros outweigh the cons is a question that is still very much up for debate. Perhaps the proliferation of stimulant drug use both legal and illegal is a social byproduct of a lazy society struggling to succeed in the face of apathy and a lack of motivation.

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