Finals and the Rise of Narcotic Stimulants

Martha Armstrong, Staff Writer

She was an 18-year-old freshman at Francis Marion University (FMU) who excelled in high school and had a full academic scholarship. She had been living in the dorms on campus and was struggling to juggle her newly found freedom while keeping up her 4.0 GPA. Finals were just around the corner, and her roommate offered her an Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) medication called Adderall. It was then that this student, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of this topic, began her downhill slope towards abusing this Schedule II narcotic.

After using the medication to cram for her first exam, she found that she could easily buy more from fellow students for $5 to $7 a pill. She spent all of the cash she had to buy enough to last her through finals.

“Then, I got my own prescription, but it would be gone within a week,” she said.  “I needed more and more. I could not imagine doing homework or even laundry without Adderall.”

She then confessed that she would stay up for two to three days straight, then crash, sleep for days and miss classes. She explained that she initially used the medication to improve her grades; but instead her grades began to go down, and she was at risk for losing her academic scholarship.

According to an in-depth 2008 Journal of College Health study on the illegal use of ADHD medications, most users report using the narcotic stimulants during periods of high academic stress to “reduce fatigue and increase reading-comprehension, interest, cognition and memory.”

The journal also reported that 34 percent of the students in the study had illegally used ADHD stimulants. Combine this with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report, which states that the production of amphetamines such as Adderall has increased 5,676 percent from 1993-2001, and it is easy to see how the procurement of these medications on college campuses has become so widespread.

Dr. Rebecca Lawson, director of counseling and testing, said students in her psychology classes talk openly about using ADHD medications.

“I look at medicine as a tool,” Lawson said.  “If a student has symptoms of ADHD and is interested in medicine as a tool, I am pretty supportive of that. Have I seen Adderall help a lot of people? I am in the pro-camp. I say yes.”

This is the case for FMU student Thomas Veasey, who was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 2. Veasey said the medications stabilize his way of thinking, and it is not the “high” that he seeks.

“When at times I would forget to take my medications, I noticed how much use the medicine really was to me, to help my body and thought processes in the norm.” Veasey said.

However, Lawson explained that for most people who do not have the ADHD diagnosis and want to avoid the risks of illegally using someone else’s medication, relying on “deadline energy” has been proven to be an extremely effective in excelling during high academic stress.

Lawson said she tells her students about an old French proverb: “One can go a long way when one is tired.”

“Sometimes what I think we do at finals, if we are not taking medications, is accept our exhaustion,” she said.  “We push it and burn it at both ends…. If we look at Harvard, Yale and some older schools that were established hundreds of years ago, some of those people crammed.”

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH) reported that overusing stimulants causes a pleasurable increase in the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway. However, repeatedly using narcotics to have this experience may lead to addiction.

“The stimulant helps with focus,” Lawson said.  “It hits the focusing part of the brain. It also hits the reward center of the brain. Therefore, focusing is rewarding. This is why many students get excited about how much Adderall made studying enjoyable.  It is not going away, because it is a powerful combination.”