Students learn lessons the hard way about Adderall use

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | 5:34 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Only one thing lies between an MU student and a part-time job — a drug test.

After submitting his urine specimen, the student waited for a call he hoped would include a job offer. Instead, he got a call from the doctor saying he had failed. An amphetamine, Adderall, had been detected in his urine, the doctor said.

The student had been prescribed Ritalin and Concerta after being diagnosed with ADHD when he was 9 years old. After coming to MU in 2009, however, he stopped refilling the prescription because it was easier to get the drug from fraternity brothers than to go to the MU Student Health Center to receive another diagnosis.

“It was never really an issue getting it from friends here,” he said. “I haven’t really bothered going back to get a new prescription.”

Although the student had been prescribed medicine for ADHD before, the doctor labeled him an “abuser” because his prescription had expired. The doctor's label was unfair, the student said. He said he isn’t addicted and only takes the drug for studying and taking tests.

The student's experience is an example of the legal implications that could arise from possessing Adderall without a prescription. Possessing the drug is a Class C offense, but distributing it on campus is a Class A offense, said MU police crime prevention officer Jennifer Lynch. MU police makes about one or two arrests a month related to Adderall possession and distribution, she said.

“I don’t think students know how serious of an offense it is to get caught using it; they think it’s no big deal,” Lynch said.

The number of arrests the MU Police Department makes each month isn’t representative of the magnitude of the problem because Adderall use isn't as easily detected as marijuana, Lynch said.

MU police receives most of its leads from anonymous tips or calls. Because these drugs are legal for those with prescriptions, it is uncommon for someone to report seeing another person abusing them, Lynch said.

“(MU police) doesn’t see as many arrests for prescription medicines because it’s not as noticeable,” Lynch said. “People don’t call and report saying, ‘I saw someone taking pills,’ but they will call and say, ‘I saw someone smoking marijuana.’ ”

However, Adderall is showing up more often in pre-employment drug tests, said Charles Johnson, who worked in MU’s toxicology laboratory — or drug testing laboratory — for 31 years until retiring three years ago. He now manages drug test programs for businesses.

Johnson said Adderall began to show up more often in samples later in his career, but that in most cases individuals had valid prescriptions for the drug.

MU combating Adderall abuse

According to the American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment, the percentage of students who reported taking Adderall without a prescription within the last year increased from 4.7 percent in the fall of 2009 to 7.5 percent in the spring of 2012.

Like the MU student who lost his job opportunity because Adderall was present in his system, MU students caught with the drug face serious consequences.

Aside from legal charges, students caught possessing Adderall or distributing it on campus must go to the office of student conduct. Punishment depends on the severity of the crime. If students are caught selling it, they could be expelled, Lynch said.

“We have an issue with it; students get arrested and get several number of years for selling it like all drugs,” Lynch said.

To combat abuse, the student health center has created the ADHD Medications & Evaluation Policy, a protocol for students refilling prescriptions for ADHD medicines, said Stephanie Bagby-Stone, chief of psychiatric services at the MU  Student Health Center.

Students who want to refill their prescriptions meet the diagnostic criteria of the Student Health Center. To make an appointment to receive an ADHD prescription, a student must provide:

  • a copy of all ADHD testing, assessments and evaluations.
  • a letter or record from the prescribing physician with documentation of the diagnosis, medication and dose.
  •  ADHD questionnaires that require parent or guardian input.

"We are aware these are meds at high risk for misuse," Bagby-Stone said. "This is the reason why we have our protocol — to make sure people aren’t misusers and they actually have ADHD.” 

Although the intensive diagnosis process deterred him from refilling his prescription at the student center, the student understands why it is necessary. "They don’t want any kid coming in there and trying to make money off the drug, but it’s definitely a huge factor in me not going to refill it there," he said.

Meanwhile, he said he has learned lessons from his experience, such as being more careful of when he takes the drug. When he enters the workforce after graduation, he plans to stop taking Adderall.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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