Some Nebraska college students turn to “Study Drug” Adderall

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October 2nd, 2014

Lincoln, NE – Fall has arrived on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Homecoming was last weekend, which means midterms are right around the corner.

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But according to several research studies, some students across the country are looking for a little “something extra” to help them study, a pharmaceutical stimulant called Adderall.

“It doesn’t smell or anything. It’s just like a pill. You could have it in your pocket. No one would know,” said a Senior accounting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He agreed to talk about his illegal use of Adderall as long as he could remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Guy.

Adderall is a combination of four amphetamines, and it’s prescribed to people with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, ADHD. The drug works by stimulating the brain to help those using it focus their thoughts and accomplish tasks more efficiently.

Cindy Hayes is a nurse practioner and director of the UNK Health Care facility. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)

Cindy Hayes is a nurse practioner and director of the UNK Health Care facility. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)

Several studies have attempted to quantify how many college kids are taking Adderall without a prescription, but no one knows exactly. Depending on the study, estimates range from 6 percent to 34 percent of college students.

Researchers at the University of Michigan said since 2003, Adderall use on that campus grew from 5 to 9 percent.

Nebraska law enforcement has also dealt with the illegal use of Adderall, which is a controlled substance in the same category as cocaine. Those charged with its distribution could face between 1 and 20 years behind bars, a $25,000 fine, or both.

Captain Chris Peterson heads the narcotics unit in Lincoln.

“Pill abuse has always been an issue in our community,” Peterson said, “We have had a number of cases where we have, in an undercover capacity, purchased in particular Adderall over the last three years. There seems to be an upward trend.”

Guy doesn’t have a prescription, but he can get a pill for about five bucks.

“I don’t personally like using it. I just use it to study because during finals weeks you could have 3-4 tests in two days. There’s [sic] only so many hours in the day, but it just helps. You hit a wall after a while and it just kind of pushes you on through,” Guy explained.

Guy said he’s only taken Adderall a few times, but he still knows all too well about the side-effects. Lack of appetite and insomnia are some of the most common. Guy said his fingers and toes got so cold, he had to sleep with two pairs of socks on his feet.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who used Adderall without a prescription were also more likely to use illicit drugs. (Image courtesy of National Survey on Drug Use and Health)

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who used Adderall without a prescription were also more likely to use illicit drugs. (Image courtesy of National Survey on Drug Use and Health)

Cindy Hayes is the director of the University of Nebraska-Kearney’s Healthcare facility. She’s also a nurse practitioner. She said Guy’s cold hands and feet could be a result of changes in his vascular system, another possible side-effect of taking Adderall.

“I think a lot of people think of these medications as ‘it’s a prescription so it’s safe, everybody can take it,’ It can have cardiac effects, neurological effects. If this medication is given to the wrong person, it could have very serious health consequences,” Hayes said.

She also said despite the risks, some students use Adderall so much, they become dependent.

That’s what happened to one Nebraska native, who we’ll call “Stef”.

“I just felt so overwhelmed,” Stef said, “I couldn’t stay up long enough. I couldn’t get all the reading done. They were assigning so much reading it was almost impossible to do it.”

Stef graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School and received a full academic scholarship to a top tier university. While studying for her masters and PhD. Stef also became reliant on Adderall.

“Initially it gave me a great bump. I was more productive. I was more focused. I had more energy and I thought I was happier. Of course things escalate and you take more and more and then you can’t sleep at night because you’re taking so much Adderall. So you take something else so you can sleep and it becomes a cycle,” Stef said.

But is taking Adderall for studying, also cheating? That’s the question being asked by researchers at Creighton University who are surveying students on academic integrity. The results of that study won’t be available for a few months. For Stef, though, taking Adderall wasn’t an issue of cheating; it was more a matter of keeping up with her peers.

“I’ve been at three different big universities, and at all of them I knew where I could go get [Adderall]. Many of my peers, in fact a large majority of them, were using some similar things. People openly talked about where to get it.”

Stef did eventually get clean. She now teaches at-risk youth in Texas.

Back on campus, students like Guy said they have to weigh the downsides of Adderall against the benefits

“Some of the side-effects kind of suck, but once you see your test grade, it’s kind of nice,” Guy said.

Putting your health in jeopardy for a good score on a math test however, might not be the best strategy to get better grades.

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