Prescription stimulant abuse still prevalent

By Brittany Goldman – bgoldman@unca.edu – Contributor | Feb. 18, 2015 |

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported academic pressure among college students increases the demand for prescription stimulants, and their illegal distribution.

 

“Students take stimulants that are not prescribed to them because they perceive that it generally improves their ability to focus and makes them more productive. Therefore, it allows them to complete papers and study for exams​ during periods of heavy work loads,” said Jay Cutspec, director of the Health and Counseling Center at UNC Asheville.

 

In 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 11.4 percent of young people ages 12-25 used prescription drugs non-medically within the past year. The study also found full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 were twice as likely to abuse prescription stimulants than those of the same age and not in college.

 

“The benefits for students who are legally prescribed stimulants by a physician is that it generally improves their ability to focus and maintain attention and reduces impulsivity and may also improve overall mood,” Cutspec said.

 

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids estimates nearly two-thirds of college students who report abusing prescription stimulants indicate that doing so helped them obtain a higher grade, improve work performance or gain a competitive edge.

 

Rodney Coulston, 24, a senior at UNCA, said he took the prescription stimulant Adderall since third grade.

 

“I got higher grades and felt more motivated and more productive. I felt no desire to be social and I got all A’s that semester when I was prescribed it. Since being off of it I have gotten B’s and a C but I definitely did better for sure,” Coulston said.

 

Adderall includes a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine and is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

 

The NSDUH reports approximately one-third of college students have used stimulants non-medically. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found 1 in 5 college students report abusing prescription stimulants at least once in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 7 non-students.

 

“Students buy medication from other students because it’s simple and easy. It would be much more difficult and costly for students to make appointments with a physician and get the medication in the usual manner,” Cutspec said.

 

A study conducted by the Journal of Addictive Diseases revealed out of 81 college students with ADHD, an alarming 62 percent diverted their medication to someone without a prescription.

 

“I have never had to buy stimulants. I have sold mine because it is so readily available to me and I have been prescribed it since I was in third grade. I have only sold them to really close friends. I was late on my rent and I sold them because It’s an easy way to make money,” Coulston said.

 

According to the United States Library of Medicine, few college students know that it is illegal to give or sell their controlled substances, including prescription stimulants, to other people, and it is illegal to obtain drugs outside of the user’s own medical prescription.

 

“People who sell their prescription drugs or give away their prescription drugs may not think it is a big deal but, they can be facing a serious charge that can follow them throughout their lives,” said Eric Boyce, assistant vice chancellor public safety.

 

Possession with intent to sell or deliver a schedule II drug is a class H felony, Boyce said. If the offender is found guilty of Class H felony, sentences include supervised probation, community sanctions or up to five to 20-year prison term in North Carolina, depending on where the offender falls within the guidelines of the North Carolina Structured Sentencing Act.

 

“Students face university sanctions through Student Conduct as well, which can possibly result in expulsion from the UNC system,” Boyce said.

 

According to Deborah C. England, a criminal defense lawyer on the legal site NOLO, the U.S. government began enacting stricter drug laws in the 1970s. In 1971, the predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Agency used authority to move amphetamines to schedule two status, restricting their use to non-refillable, prescription-only.

 

“The laws continue to be so strict because the government and the medical system is all about the checks. The legal system makes money by making laws on this, but the medical industry makes money by selling it, they work hand and hand. Doctors give it to you easily but if you get caught with it, double the profit,” Coulston said.

 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology, most illegal users reported using ADHD stimulants primarily in periods of high academic stress. They found these stimulants reduce fatigue while increasing reading comprehension, interest, cognition and memory. Furthermore, most students knew little information about these drugs and found procurement to be both easy and stigma free.

 

“During finals week there is a lot thrown at you at one time and the only way you can handle it is through Adderall for some people, unless you happen to be lucky. Because of the way exam week is scheduled, a lot of the time you have all of them in one day. There is no way to be ready for it. Literally no way. You have to go through the punches, and you have to do what you have to do. If you don’t you will fail,” Coulston said.

 

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies all amphetamines as having a high potential for abuse and limited medical uses. In addition to potentially becoming addictive, common side effects of the drug include lack of appetite, increased blood pressure, headache, dry mouth, inability to fall asleep and weight loss.

 

“There is a danger of being addicted. It’s a stimulant so of course. While taking it I had a higher heartbeat, anxiety and I was worried, but at the same time I was so focused on school I didn’t care,” Coulston said.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports, when taking prescription stimulants in ways other than those prescribed, stimulants can increase brain dopamine in a rapid and highly amplified manner, similar to methamphetamine, thereby disrupting normal communication between brain cells and producing euphoria resulting in increased risk of addiction.

 

The NSDUH reports Nearly 90 percent of full-time college students who used Adderall non-medically in the past year were past month binge alcohol users, and more than half were heavy alcohol users.

 

“I have seen people take these stimulants just to party, not for academic purposes, just for fun. When you take Adderall you’re going to be awake, alert, on point. You’ll be able to stay up all night and drink harder. That’s why people become addicted to it, especially if you’re a student. At the end of the day that’s the only fun you have, it just makes them a better partier and more fun. When you mix Adderall with other drugs it allows you to stay up and party, because you crave that social interaction,” Coulston said.

 

According to the NSDUH the majority of emergency room visits involving Adderall nearly tripled between 2005 and 2010 which also included alcohol.

 

“The main risk of doing this is that stimulants mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication. This means when students are drinking they will feel sober, yet their body is still processing the alcohol at the same rate. This masking of symptoms results in students drinking more in quantity and not being able to assess when they have had enough to drink,” Cutspec said.

 

The National Institute of Health reports advances in pharmaceutical science have led to the development of abuse-resistant prescription stimulants including extended release variations, which could potentially reduce the abuse of these drugs.


Cutspec said UNCA could prevent students from abusing these drugs by providing education programs and health promotion campaigns regarding study drugs, and that this has been done in the past.

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