Illegal focus stimulants common during finals
January 5, 2017
Late nights, constant anxiety and review material are all commonplace in student life during the closing days of every semester. Adderall, one of the most commonly prescribed treatment for students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is infamous for its black market presence on high school and university campuses. Unlike mainly recreational drugs such as marijuana, Adderall is often obtained to make studying easier.
“I just really struggle focusing a lot and there’s rarely any days where I’ll come home and do homework,” an anonymous junior said. “I don’t have the motivation to get started or finish it. Especially with math, I can’t really apply myself or apply what I’ve learned.”
The junior said she first used an unprescribed stimulant similar to Adderall to help her study during finals last May. The medicine was effective on her attention-span and she plans on using it again this winter.
“I had a much longer attention span last year and I felt better, a little bit more motivated,” she said. “I could sit down and do my homework normally…Today’s actually my first day taking it to study, and so far I feel a lot more motivated to get things done.”
Adderall is not distributed to students by a complicated chain of smugglers and distributors. This underground market begins with a pharmacy counter and a student who decides to turn a profit off of their prescription.
“I sell the Adderall $3 a pill,” an anonymous senior said. “But during finals, I change it to $5 a pill because I have more people asking.”
The senior said they receive 20mg Adderall XR as treatment for their ADHD. Unlike Adderall IR (immediate release), Adderall XR (extended release) is engineered to be absorbed at a constant rate by the body, minimizing a person’s ability to get high. The senior sells some of the pills to friends or people they trust.
“I sell mainly to my friends and people I know, but I have sold to people that just got recommended to me,” the senior said. “I usually ask them what’s the reason before I [sell it to them.]”
The senior said they support people who want to use the drug for studying, but a couple of their customers use Adderall XR to reduce cravings for cigarettes. Students who do not sell their prescription often feel pressured to by their peers. Sophomore Izabella Fletcher, who takes Adderall for her ADHD, occasionally takes her prescription to school.
“I’ve taken it in the [school] middle of the day before, [so] people know I have this prescription,” Fletcher said. “Especially around finals time, [focus enhancing stimulants are] a pretty big market. I’ve had a lot of people ask to buy my prescription. I know there’s a lot of selling of prescription drugs on school property, but I feel like there are enough people to take care of that supply and demand.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency lists Adderall and other focus stimulants as a “Schedule II” drugs alongside cocaine due to their high chance of addiction or abuse. This makes Adderall highly illegal to possess without a prescription. Dr. Terrance Riordan, a practicing pediatrician for 35 years, refuses to prescribe Adderall due to how the body reacts to it and how it can be misused.
“Some people can grind it up and snort it. Some people can grind it up and inject it,” Riordan said. “So I don’t prescribe that medicine…I refuse to do it because it’s too easily abused.”
Since Riordan does not prescribe Adderall, he resorts to alternatives such as Vyvanse or Adderall XR. According to Riordan these medicines are safe for anybody, attention-deficit or otherwise, if the dosage is correct which depends on body mass. However, they can still be dangerous if used incorrectly depending on body mass.
“If you take [a prescription stimulant] without consultation…you could misuse it,” Riordan said. “You could take too high of a dose and damage yourself. It increases blood pressure and heart rate. It’s actually a fairly safe medicine in the realm of medicine where we know what the limits are. But if you take it on your own and keep increasing the dose, you run the risk of damaging the heart, the lungs and die from it.”
An anonymous junior, who is not diagnosed with ADHD, borrowed her friend’s medication to help her study for finals last year. She said she felt many of the side effects related to taking any unprescribed medication.
“I felt super jittery all of the time, because who I got it from has a higher dosage, and it wasn’t for my body,” the junior said. “In the beginning it worked, I was really concentrated and I could focus easily and I retained a lot of stuff I learned while I was on it. But I didn’t get hungry and I was cold…towards the end of the day I would [be irritable], and [when the drug wore off] I felt bad. I would either be super upset about something or super mad. It messed with my body.”
The junior said she stopped taking the drug after finals due to the negative effects, but observed a few of her undiagnosed peers who continued to take focus stimulants after winter break.
“I know a few people who tried it just for finals, but they actually did become dependent on it,” the junior said. “[The] people who [use focus enhancing drugs] year round are the same people who did it a few times just for finals.”
The junior said that even if someone undiagnosed has a stimulant, she would not recommend using it and that she would be drinking a lot of coffee instead this year. Many students, some with an attention-deficiency, found alternatives to using a focus-enhancing stimulant. Junior Charles Newsome, who is diagnosed with ADD, found alternative ways to boost his focus.
“I always try to create a schedule, because it’s easiest when everything’s in a routine,” Newsome said. “I eat different things [so that] I don’t need to go on pills [to study]. I always have candy or gum on me, because chewing on something helps. I usually drink tea because it calms me down and gives me energy.”
Despite these alternatives, many students continue to illegally use medication to help them study, regardless of the possible risks to their health.
“It is kinda scary, because it’s different from smoking weed since your body can become dependent on it,” an anonymous junior who illegally takes Adderall for school said. “I don’t think I would ever risk taking any other prescription medication that people get high off of.”
For these students, the benefits outweigh the dangers of taking a controlled substance such as Adderall. Whether it be personal or peer pressure, the risk is worth taking for many.