Prescription stimulants are big on campus

Nearly 1 in 10 students at a New England college admits to using prescription stimulants without authorization, a new study finds.

Scientists distributed questionnaires to undergraduate students at the private college and collected 347 completed forms. More than half of the responders reported they knew someone who sold prescription stimulants illegally.

Physicians prescribe stimulants for many children and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Companies market the drugs under such names as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall.

While recreational drug abuse is an old problem on college campuses, modern students appear to take stimulants obtained illicitly to help them stay awake, study, and lose weight, the researchers report in the May Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Study coauthor Diane R. Blake, a pediatrician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, says the students probably underreported taking the pills. “Even though the survey was anonymous, they may not be comfortable reporting their own use,” she says. Nearly three-fourths of the students said that they know another student taking stimulants without a prescription.

In one sense, ADHD medicine “is the NoDoz of the 2000s,” says Blake, referring to the caffeine-laden pills used by generations of late-night crammers.

But the data also suggest that some students taking others’ prescription stimulants might have a legitimate need for the medications, she says. In her practice, Blake encounters many adolescents who appear to have undiagnosed ADHD. “They hit college and start working extra hard to compensate for it,” she says. Some young people taking passed-along stimulants may be self-medicating for ADHD, she says.

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