COLUMBIA — Finals week has arrived at MU, and with pressure building to complete projects and papers, many students are feeling the need to stay awake longer than usual. Although many students feed on Red Bull and other caffeine-loaded drinks, others are reaching for a little orange bottle instead.
Adderall, a product of Shire Pharmaceuticals, is an amphetamine-based psychostimulant used to treat people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The drug and its generic equivalents are also common, legally and illegally, among college students. Danny Collins, a recent MU graduate, recalls friends offering to get him a few pills to help him study. Collins said he never felt the need to use the drug, though it was readily available.
“It was always someone saying, ‘I’m getting Adderall from my friend. Do you want any? I can get you some for $10,’” he said. “Every finals week, lots of people I was studying with were either taking it or said they had connections to it.”
Many students are nonchalant about the drug; it is so common, they say, that they don’t have any reservations about taking it. One MU student, now a senior, began taking Adderall her sophomore year during her organic chemistry class. The student, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because she does not have a prescription for the drug, said she isn’t concerned about side effects.
“I heard a lot of people used it,” she said, “so I wasn’t worried about it.”
That attitude worries some health professionals.
Susan Even, director of the Student Health Center, said widespread illegal use of Adderall is “disturbing.” Adderall is a Class II controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse. The illicit sale and possession of the drug can be a felony.
“There are very difficult courses where concentration and focus are important, but even things like having a cup of coffee or getting plenty of sleep have an impact,” Even said. “It’s too bad that the perception is that the only way they can succeed in those classes is to use illegal stimulants.”
The process for getting a prescription for Adderall or one of its generic equivalents is rigorous. Even said that a diagnosis from another doctor must be produced before the student can see a psychiatrist. Those who are prescribed the drug must sign a statement saying they will not distribute it and will store it in a secure place.
“I know that our doctors are aware of the abuse of Adderall, but we do our best to prescribe appropriately for students who fit the criteria,” Even said. “It would be wrong for us to deny people the prescription who really do meet the diagnoses. We have policies in place to do the best we can.”
One MU student, who has a prescription for the medication, said she sells and trades Adderall with friends. However, she said she is leery of the attitudes many students have regarding the drug. “A lot of kids come to me thinking, ‘Oh I’ll just go right over to Student Health and tell them I have a hard time focusing, and Bam! I’ll magically get diagnosed with ADHD and have my own supply of stimulant drugs,’” she said. “Trust me, it does not work that way at all.”
She said she had to undergo 10 hours of clinical testing to be diagnosed with ADHD and has to be re-evaluated by her psychiatrist every 30 days.
“I sell it for $3, which means I only make about $100 a month off of it,” she said. “I know lots of other kids who sell much lower doses for a much higher amount, especially during times like finals when demand is high and supply is low. I really only deal with a handful of friends that I literally hang out with on a day-to-day basis. I don’t do the whole, ‘sell to dumb, rich, college kids you don’t know and charge tons of money’ scam. Too risky.”
Another student, a senior at MU, said he feels he is providing a service.
“A lot of people who have the prescriptions already sometimes don’t use it all,” he said. “They want to get rid of it, but they don’t know where to start, so I’m kind of the middle man.”
He recalled one instance in particular when he said the drug really helped him.
“I had a stat exam, and I suck at statistics,” he recalled. “I popped one and sat down and literally read through all of the chapters that were going to be covered the next day on the test. The next morning, I took one right before the exam and got an A.”
The side effects of amphetamines can be unpleasant. Some students expressed an inability to sleep for a few days. Another user experienced feeling jittery and thirsty all the time. “You don’t want to eat anything, but your mouth is so dry all the time,” she said. “After you take it, the next day when it wears off, you’re really tired, really cranky and you have absolutely no energy.”
Taking other people’s medications can be dangerous, Even said, especially when students might not always know which version of a drug they are taking. “What some students don’t realize,” she said, “is that there are two different types of Adderall — a short-acting pill you take three times a day and a long-acting pill that works all day.”
Both the Columbia Police Department and MU Police say they are unaware of Adderall abuse on Columbia’s college campuses. One MU student suggested that the problem might be that Adderall is so common among young people who obtain legitimate prescriptions.
“It’s not a drug that, like, druggies use,” he said. “Personally, I thought it was something people took for fun, but surprisingly, most of my clients were hard-core students who needed to study and really focus.”