1 in 5 Ivy Leaguers at an undisclosed school report ADHD drug misuse

Capsules of Adderal XR, the hyperactivity medication manufactured by Shire Pharmaceuticals Group Plc.(Shire Pharmaceuticals Group Plc/via Bloomberg News)
Capsules of Adderal XR, the hyperactivity medication manufactured by Shire Pharmaceuticals Group. (Shire Pharmaceuticals Group PLC via Bloomberg News)

Some call them “study drugs” — stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And according to a new study, one in five students at an undisclosed Ivy League university have misused them at least once to gain an academic edge.

The study, which was presented over the weekend at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) meeting in Vancouver, anonymously surveyed more than 600 sophomores, juniors and seniors without ADHD diagnoses at an Ivy and found that 18 percent admitted to using the drugs at least once to help write a paper, cram for an exam or take a test.

Jared Gabay, a Auburn University senior, told CNN he takes Adderall — not for ADHD, which he doesn’t have, but to help pull all-nighters studying in his fraternity house.

“I’m more driven. I don’t focus on anything else,” he told CNN. “If I have a paper, that’s all I’m doing. No distractions, no socializing, just on with it.”

And a third of the students surveyed said, like Gabay, that they didn’t view it as cheating.

“I consider it kind of an unwritten rule,” he told CNN. “It’s okay if you’re just getting it for one thing. If you’re consistently using it and not prescribed that’s crossing the line.”

Timothy Wilens, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told the Detroit Free Press that there’s no doubt these ADHD drugs improve focus and concentration. For example, for someone with ADHD, the drugs might help them focus for 20 minutes instead of five, he said. And for someone without ADHD, the drugs might help them concentrate for 50 or 60 minutes instead of the 30 or 40 minutes they’re accustomed to.

Some experts say it’s not worth the payout.

Jon LaPook, chief medical correspondent for CBS News, reported that the risks of stimulant use include heart attack, stroke, psychosis and even death.

“They’re really playing Russian roulette,” he said.

According to a report released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, emergency room visits for non-medical use of stimulants tripled between 2005 and 2011, CBS News reported.

“It is our hope that this study will increase greater awareness and prompt broader discussion about misuse of medications like Ritalin or Adderall for academic purposes,” Natalie Colaneri, lead investigator of the PAS study and research assistant at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said in a news release. “It is important that this issue be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective: as an issue relevant to the practice of medicine, to higher education and to ethics in modern-day society.”

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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