'Study Drugs' Are Risky Alternatives to Caffeine
Sunday, December 5, 2010
For one UC Berkeley freshman, the cure for an increasingly overwhelming workload lies in a small cup on her dorm room desk that contains five Adderall pills - four of which she said she plans to take over the next two weeks in order to help her focus as she studies for exams.
The freshman, who asked to remain anonymous because she is illegally taking the drug without a prescription, said she has already taken the drug at least four or five times during high school in order to increase her ability to focus and pull all-nighters because "caffeine doesn't do enough."
"Probably one in five people I know would consider doing it, or have done it or will do it in college, if not more than that," she said. "I think it's kind of a matter of availability."
She said the pressure to study for long hours at a time increases as finals week approaches. She and other students, finding coffee and energy drinks to be inadequate study aids, instead turn to so-called "study drugs" in order to maximize their capabilities.
Despite the popularity of the drugs, they are not without dangers, according to Richard Scheffler, distinguished professor of health economics and public policy in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
"If the person they're selling (the drug) to has an adverse reaction - it's rare but it does happen - they would have serious issues," he said. "Anybody who's selling it or buying it is taking a risk."
Scheffler said pills purchased on the street can be dangerous because they are not dispensed in controlled dosages, such as those prescribed by a doctor. He said those who take the pills on a prescription generally begin by taking it in smaller doses that are gradually adjusted to suit their particular needs.
Adderall - identified by some as the most common study drug - stimulates the central nervous system and is prescribed to treat symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder .
The drug can also be habit-forming, according to the National Institute of Health's website.
Stephen Hinshaw, professor and chair in the UC Berkeley department of psychology, said the potential for addiction to Adderall is a key issue.
"If taken for the 'high' they can produce, the stimulants can be addictive," Hinshaw said in an e-mail. "It may seem like a 'no brainer' to simply take someone else's stimulant to help during intense study times, but it's not a light issue at all."
The freshman also admitted to having used the drug recreationally in the past, specifically at a party she attended where she said the drug was made as available as alcohol.
"It's kind of similar to the Four Loko phenomenon," she said. "When mixed with alcohol, (the drug) can kind of just enhance the feeling."
According to its website, the Tang Center is no longer able to prescribe ADHD medication treatment to students not already receiving it as of Aug. 24, 2009 due to "a lack of adequate resources," though referrals for new patients is available.
The freshman said she can usually purchase the drug for about $5 a pill at least, and that her decision to take it is made easier by the fact that she experiences relatively few side-effects as a result of usage.
"I wouldn't say there's a sketchy black market for it or anything," she said. "Most people get it from their friends (who have prescriptions)."
Contact J.D. Morris at [email protected]
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